U.S. customs and border protection imposed a new ban on imports of seafood from a fleet of Chinese fishing vessels, after a year-long investigation revealed what U.S. officials called signs of forced labor in fleet operations.
In a statement released Friday, CBP said it had issued what is known as a restraining order against Dalian Ocean Fishing Co., Ltd., a fishing company based in Dalian, a port city near the China-North Korea border. The agency said it had identified at least 11 indicators of forced labor in the company’s grounds, “including physical violence, withholding wages and abusive working and living conditions.” The allegations include abuse against many Indonesian workers.
With the ban in effect, border officials will begin to detain tuna, swordfish and other seafood harvested by vessels owned or operated by the Chinese company. According to CBP officials, this is the first US ban on imports of an entire fishing fleet, as opposed to individual vessels targeted in the past.
“Companies that exploit their workers have no place to do business in the United States,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. declaration. “Products made from forced labor not only exploit workers, but harm American businesses and expose consumers to unethical purchases.”
Mayorkas said the suspension of release order will ensure not only the continued protection of human rights, but also national and economic security.
Dalian Ocean Fishing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai also drew attention to the issue of forced labor on fishing vessels, submitting a proposal to the World Trade Organization for reduce subsidies to fishing activities which involve the use of forced labor and oblige member countries to recognize the problem.
According to a 2017 report by the International Labor Organization and the Walk Free Foundation, approximately 25 million people around the world are forced to work under threat or coercion. About 16 million of these people were subjected to forced labor in the private economy in 2016, according to the report.
The suspension order on Dalian Ocean Fishing is the latest in a series of similar bans. Chinese companies have been the target of several major import bans due to forced labor issues over the past two years.
The Trump administration, in its last week in office, implemented an import ban on cotton and tomato products from China’s Xinjiang region. The blanket ban followed allegations that products were made by Uyghur Muslims working under involuntary conditions and forced labor.
In September, in a similar effort, the United States banned the importation of certain Chinese-made hair products, clothing and computer parts for the sake of forced labor – again in the Xinjiang region.
Previous targets also included producers of toys, peeled garlic and artificial sweeteners.
“DHS will continue to aggressively investigate the use of forced labor by offshore fishing vessels and a wide range of other industries,” Secretary Mayorkas said at a press briefing. “US producers and importers need to understand that there will be consequences for entities that attempt to exploit workers to sell goods in the United States.”