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Consequences of Importing Merchandise made by Forced Labor

Merchandise that has been made by forced labor of any kind is considered prohibited and may not be imported into the United States. This law is in Section 1307 under Title 19 of the United States Code. Forced labor is defined as “all work or service which is extracted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its nonperformance and for which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily; including but not limited to slave labor, forced or indentured child labor and indentured servitude. The International Labor Organization (ILO) published examples of forced labor occurring such as, debt bondage, abuse of worker vulnerabilities and threats, physical and sexual violence, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime.”[1]

In 2016, however the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act was passed which repealed the exception that allowed many such products to be imported into the US, primarily from China. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has increased the enforcement of laws and sanctions related to products made by forced labor, such as issuing Withhold Release Orders (WROs), assessing millions in civil penalties, and detaining over 900 shipments. The major targets for US forced labor enforcement include textiles, cell phones, computers, electronics, food, and seafood. According to the ILO, forced or nonconsensual labor is acceptable if it is community service imposed by a court of law, prison labor under the control of a public authority or normal civic obligations like military service.

There are severe penalties for importing merchandise made by forced labor and include the issuance of WROs, the detention, seizure, and forfeiture of violative merchandise, civil penalties for entering merchandise contrary to law under 19 USC 1595a(b), up to 20 years of prison, and revocation of import privileges by CBP.[2] However, before any of these punishments are enforced or any WRO may be issued, CBP must investigate the suspected item(s) being imported. The process is like a police officer searching a car during a traffic stop, CBP must have reasonable suspicion first that a company is using forced labor in any step of the supply chain process whether that be in a foreign factory, geographic region known for implementing forced labor, etc. Once issued, the WRO will list the company that is using forced labor, provide a product description and notify the ILO of the indicators of forced labor present. The WROs are then posted to the forced labor page at A WRO may be suspended if the interested party provides proof that the company is no longer involved in/with forced labor and has documented rectification of the issue.

Overall, all merchandise that was made by forced labor outside of the premise of court ordered community service, military service, or volunteer work may not be imported into the United States. There are several harsh punishments and fines that will be imposed if a shipment is found to be containing such prohibited merchandise, such as detention and destruction, revocation of import privileges, and even jail time. Forced labor is not just limited to illegal child labor, it also includes poor treatment of employees like sexual abuse, involuntary overtime, and refusal to turn over legal documentation related to the job. While most products at risk of forced labor sanctions come from China, CBP has the right to search any shipment with reasonable suspicion or forced labor having occurred in the manufacturing process. If a shipment is found to contain such prohibited merchandise and a WRO has been issued, the name of the company will be posted online to the CBP website and information provided to the ILO.

If you have any questions about this topic, or any other trade related issues please contact Allyn at

Contributor: Angelique Jones



About Allyn International

Allyn International is dedicated to providing high quality, customer centric services and solutions for the global marketplace. Allyn's core products include transportation management, logistics sourcing, freight forwarding, supply chain consulting, tax management and global trade compliance. Allyn clients range from small local businesses to Fortune 500 firms. Allyn conducts business in more than 20 languages and has extensive experience in both developed and emerging markets. Highly trained experts are positioned throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia. Allyn’s regional headquarters are strategically located in Fort Myers, Florida, U.S.A., Shanghai, P.R. China, Prague, Czech Republic, and Dubai, U.A.E. For more information, visit


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