The nonpartisan, nonprofit Partnership for Public Service has selected U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s agency-wide forced labor team as a finalist for the 2021 Service to America Medal (“Sammies”) in the Safety, Security, and International Affairs category. The Sammies, sometimes called the “Oscars” of government service, are a highly respected honor with a rigorous selection process.
Led by Executive Director Ana B. Hinojosa and Deputy Executive Director Eric Choy, CBP’s forced labor team is responsible for investigating goods suspected of being made with forced labor and preventing them from entering the United States.
“This Sammies nomination is testament to the incredible work that Executive Director Hinojosa, Deputy Executive Director Choy, and experts throughout CBP are doing every day to protect vulnerable workers, American consumers, and our economy,” said Troy Miller, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the CBP Commissioner. “The importation of merchandise made by forced labor is illegal, dangerous to U.S. consumers, harmful to American industry, and counter to our shared values as a nation. In just a few short years, the CBP team has made the United States the global leader in preventing these goods from entering the United States.”
According to the International Labour Organization, 25 million people suffer under conditions of forced labor around the world. Those conditions include physical and sexual violence, debt bondage, withholding of wages, and other human rights abuses. Goods made by forced labor hurt workers, undermine law-abiding U.S. businesses, and subject unsuspecting American consumers to making unethical purchases.
Under Executive Director Hinojosa’s and Deputy Executive Director Choy’s leadership, CBP has developed a robust civil investigative program to identify forced labor in U.S. supply chains and take appropriate enforcement actions. When CBP has information reasonably indicating that certain goods are made by forced labor, the agency will issue a Withhold Release Order to prevent those goods from being imported into the United States. CBP can also issue monetary penalties for certain forced labor offenses and refer cases to Homeland Security Investigations for criminal investigation.
Since 2016, CBP has issued 29 Withhold Release Orders on goods including cotton products from China’s Xinjiang region, palm oil from Malaysia, and seafood from various fishing vessels. During that same period, CBP prevented more than $100 million of goods made by forced labor from entering U.S. commerce, including hair products made with human hair. Last year, CBP levied the first monetary penalty for forced labor imports in recent history and also issued the first forced labor finding in a quarter century. This March, CBP levied an additional finding due to the use of forced labor in the production of disposable gloves. These are the only enforcement actions of their kind in the world.
“CBP’s enforcement efforts have not only stopped goods made by forced labor from entering the United States, but they have also convinced companies to clean up their supply chains and change their business practices for the better,” said John Leonard, Acting Executive Assistant Commissioner of the CBP Office of Trade. “That means better working conditions for hundreds of thousands of laborers, a more competitive global trade environment, and less risk for U.S. consumers and businesses.”
CBP’s enforcement authorities are limited to U.S. supply chains, but that has not stopped the agency from working with foreign governments to increase overall awareness, and strengthen global efforts to end forced labor. Canada and Mexico committed to work with the United States to address forced labor under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and CBP continues discussions of forced labor enforcement with like-minded partners in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
CBP maintains a proud tradition of vigilance, integrity, and excellence in public service. Since 2015, the Sammies have recognized CBP employees for using pollen analysis to solve serious crimes; implementing a facial comparison system to secure and facilitate international travel; implementing an electronic single window for imports and exports that has saved the government and businesses billions of dollars; and reducing airport wait times while ensuring the highest possible security standards.
The Sammies are the premier awards program recognizing America’s best in government. Renamed the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals in 2010 to commemorate the organization’s founder, the program has honored more than 500 outstanding federal employees since its inception in 2002. More information about the program and the 2021 finalists is available online.
Anyone can support CBP’s nomination for the Service to America Medal by visiting servicetoamericamedals.org. Every vote for the CBP team supports the effort to end modern slavery.
Click here to request an interview with Executive Director Hinojosa and/or Deputy Executive Director Choy.