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U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Oct. 1 slapped rare detention orders on goods imported from an unprecedented five countries in one day based on allegations that people producing those items might be children, or adults subjected to forced labor. The orders are used to hold shipping containers at the U.S. ports of entry until the agency can investigate the claims of wrongdoing.
The government is also blocking rubber gloves sold by industry leader Ansell whose customers include surgeons, mechanics and scientists around the U.S., accusing a Malaysian manufacturer of staffing its factories with migrants from Bangladesh, Nepal and other countries who went into crushing debt from paying exorbitant recruitment fees. Imports of bone charcoal from Brazil that firms like Plymouth Technology and ResinTech Inc. used to remove contaminants in U.S. water systems, diamonds from Zimbabwe and gold from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, were stopped as well.
CBP did not release information about the companies that were importing the goods covered by last week's detention orders. But The Associated Press tracked items to several buyers, including Costco and the U.S. subsidiary of Ansell, an Australian protective gloves manufacturer. The companies said they were not aware that their products were being made with forced labor.
Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan said the orders, the most issued in a single day, "shows that if we suspect a product is made using forced labor, we’ll take that product off U.S. shelves."
Under the law, U.S. importers have 90 days to prove no forced labor was used to produce their products. If they can’t, they can either ship their products to another country or surrender them to Customs.
The baby pajamas were made by China's Hetian Taida Apparel, which AP reported last year was forcing Uigher Muslims and other ethnic minorities to sew clothes for U.S. importers inside a Chinese re-education camp.
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This was one of a growing number of internment camps in China’s far western Xinjiang region, where by some estimates 1 million Muslims are politically indoctrinated while detained and forced to give up their language and their religion.
In response, Hetian Taida's U.S. buyer Badger Sportswear, in Statesville, North Carolina, cut off imports and Hetian Taida stopped exporting to the U.S., according to records published by ImportGenius, which tracks shipping activity around the world.
But last month, Costco Wholesale Corp. began importing baby pajamas made by the company. On September 21, 2019 and again on Sept. 26, 2019, Hetian Taida sent shipping containers filled with 100% polyester blanket sleepers for babies and toddlers to the U.S., labeled for Costco, according to shipping records.
In an interview with the AP, Costco officials said "we believe (the baby sleepers) were made in a factory other than the one that was the subject of the CBP detention order. As the facts develop, we're prepared to consider what action we should take relative to the issue of a supplier to our supplier owning factories that may have problems."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.