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GAO: CBP Should Improve Communication on Forced Labor to Strengthen Trade Enforcement

Globally, millions of adults and children are subjected to forced labor, compelled to perform work or service under various forms of threat or coercion. Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits the importation into the United States of goods produced in any foreign country wholly or in part by forced labor. The Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has sole responsibility for enforcing this law.

CBP uses several tools to enforce Section 307, which prohibits the importation of goods made with forced labor. For example, CBP may issue a withhold release order (WRO) when information reasonably but not conclusively indicates that merchandise produced with forced labor is being, or likely to be, imported into the United States. CBP may detain shipments of merchandise pursuant to WROs at U.S. ports of entry, unless an importer provides sufficient evidence that it was not made with forced labor. In addition, CBP may revoke or modify a WRO if evidence shows the merchandise was not made with forced labor; is no longer being produced with forced labor; or is no longer being, or likely to be, imported into the United States.

A review by the Government Accountability Office  found that CBP has taken steps to communicate with other federal agencies as well as nonfederal stakeholders about its enforcement of Section 307.

CBP communicates with other agencies, including the Departments of Labor and State, through monthly meetings of an interagency working group. During these meetings, members discuss their agencies’ forced labor–related efforts and CBP reports its planned enforcement actions. CBP officials told GAO that they may communicate separately with other agencies’ officials to obtain or share information relevant to CBP’s investigations. CBP officials communicate with nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and private sector entities that address forced labor, according to CBP officials.

However, GAO found that one aspect of CBP’s communication with other federal agencies and nonfederal stakeholders lacks transparency. CBP has published a description of its process for issuing WROs as well as the types of information it requires to revoke or modify them. But CBP has not published a description of its WRO revocation and modification process, comparable to a description of its WRO issuance process posted on its website. As a result, other agencies and stakeholders lack knowledge of the process. This may limit the agencies’ ability to support CBP’s enforcement and the private sector’s ability to comply with Section 307.

GAO recommends that CBP make a description of its WRO revocation and modification process publicly available. CBP agreed with GAO’s recommendation and aims to action this by September 30, 2021.

Read the full report at GAO

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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