Seafood May Become UFLPA Priority Sector; FLETF Wants Substantial Increase of Entity List
The government is considering adding seafood to its list of priority enforcement targets, joining cotton, polysilicon and tomatoes, according to testimony at a House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight hearing.
The Labor Department is a participant in the interagency Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force, and witness Thea Lee, deputy undersecretary for international affairs in the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, or ILAB, said that the group is considering adding seafood as one of the priority sectors when it rewrites the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act strategy. Lee said that domestic shrimpers have spoken to her repeatedly about the competition from shrimp processed with forced labor. "We take them very seriously," she said, and added that the task force "heard some very alarming testimony from Ian Urbina," executive editor of The Outlaw Ocean Project, a non-profit that recently published exposes on forced labor from North Korea and Uyghur laborers in eastern China seafood processing facilities. as well as on illegal fishing.
Subcommittee member Mike Ezell, R-Miss., encouraged FLETF to act quickly on making seafood a target.
Witness Eric Choy, executive director of CBP's Trade Remedy Law Enforcement Directorate, the directorate in charge of forced labor enforcement, added that CBP has close contact with the Outlaw Ocean Project. "Where we find the violations of the law, we will enforce," he said.
In the second hearing the Oversight Subcommittee held on the implementation of the UFLPA (see 2310200042), de minimis shipments, low incidence of cotton isotopic testing and the slow pace of adding businesses to the UFLPA Entity List continued to be among the members' top concerns.
Chairman Dan Bishop, R-N.C., told the panel during the Jan. 11 hearing that previous witnesses said direct-to-consumer packages that enter commerce under the de minimis threshold have become "a huge source of evasion of the interdiction of goods made with forced labor."
Christa Brzozowski, acting assistant secretary in Homeland Security's Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans for Trade, declined to pin the increase on e-commerce, but acknowledged that the sharp increase in volume is a challenge for CBP.
"We are enforcing our forced labor laws in this particular channel, but it’s more challenging because of the limited amount of data we get," she said.
Choy said the additional funding Congress provided to hire staff and buy equipment for UFLPA enforcement is appreciated, and that CBP is looking to enhance ACE, which he said "needs to be modernized to keep pace with the advancements in global trade overall."
Rep. Dale Strong, R-Ala., also homed in on de minimis, and asked Brzozowski if she is concerned about whether current law on de minimis "undermines the ability of CBP" to find goods made with forced labor or contraband.
She replied that she shared his concern, and said that CBP is looking to enhance its targeting in the de minimis environment, and in the medium term, the agency is planning to improve the data collected for de minimis packages.
The agency has said rulemaking to incorporate the lessons of its Section 321 and Type 86 data pilots is a top priority (see 2309110059). Choy said during the hearing that data set to be required under that rulemaking will help CBP stop more violative goods entering through de minimis entries.
Brzozowski said that, in the longer term, DHS is "open to a conversation with Congress" about de minimis.
Bishop and subcommittee ranking member Glenn Ivey, D-Md., both said they feel that 30 companies on the entity list after a year and a half is not meeting their expectations. Bishop said during his opening statement: "It seems that the entity list is merely scratching the surface of the vast universe of potential entities that could be listed."
Brzozowski told the subcommittee that the FLETF, which is led by her boss, Robert Silvers, has an active pipeline of recommendations for companies to add to the list, and that the department is also conducting a "strategic review of every aspect" of the process to add entities to the list.
She agreed that 30 companies is too sparse a list, and said that FLETF wants to have a "transparent, consistent" and scalable process, so it can substantially increase the size of the entity list. But, she said, it's critical that the administration develop a "robust methodology that is going to stand up … to legal scrutiny." The chairman asked her if any company had sued the government over the entity list, and she said that has happened (see 2308230016).
Bishop also questioned Choy about the volume of textiles that have been subject to isotopic testing to see if the cotton contained in them was grown in Xinjiang and therefore banned from import under the UFLPA.
In his opening statement, Choy noted that nearly 17% of all shipments stopped under UFLPA are textiles, and that approximately 63% were denied entry after the initial detention.
Choy told Bishop that CBP's first internal isotopic testing lab opened late last year in Savannah, Georgia, and that CBP will open a lab in Los Angeles and a lab in New York in the next eight months.
Ivey asked if there is a way to do sample testing on other commodities, such as cobalt, to identify where they were mined. Choy said industry is exploring that.
Lee added that ILAB has a new project to help the Congolese industry trace cobalt from the mine to the processor, to the lithium-ion battery and to the finished project.
Rep. Shri Thanedar, D-Mich., said to Choy that while committee members asked many questions about what the government can be doing to stop forced labor goods, "at the end of the day, private companies including importers … are the ones responsible for following U.S. laws."
Choy agreed, saying that companies have the most insight into supply chains, and that CBP has had more than 500 engagements with the private sector to educate them about UFLPA, about the tools to map their supply chains from raw material to finished good, and to remind them "to exercise reasonable care."
Ivey asked the panel if companies linked to forced labor are starting to take steps to cover their tracks.
Brzozowski responded "The vast majority of importers are repulsed by this abhorrent work practice as we are," and are working "to eradicate it from their supply chains.
But Lee agreed with Ivey. "I think there’s no question that companies and the Chinese government are taking steps to obfuscate the supply chain. … And so I think that just speaks to how important it is that we ramp up all the work that we've talked about today, with respect to supply chain tracing, with respect to enforcement." She said companies that buy the finished goods have the power to remove forced labor from their supply chains.