U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Withhold Release Order on Friday, May 28, against China’s Dalian Ocean Fishing for alleged forced labor, requiring the seizure of its seafood exports to the United States. The order was effective immediately upon issuance.
CBP has notified all ports of entry in the United States to seize tuna, swordfish and other seafood caught by all vessels of Dalian Ocean Fishing Tuna Fishing Co.
Under U.S. federal law, the importation of merchandise derived in whole or in part from forced labor is prohibited. Once the merchandise in question is detained by Customs, the importer must prove that the merchandise in question did not originate from forced labor.
In response, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said that companies that exploit workers cannot be allowed to do business in the United States. He said, “Products made with forced labor not only exploit workers, but also hurt American businesses and expose consumers to unethical buying practices. This Seizure Order will ensure that we continue to protect the human rights of people working in the offshore fishing industry while maintaining our national and economic security.”
Troy Miller, CBP’s High Commissioner for Compliance, noted, “The Sequester will help protect vulnerable workers while protecting a level playing field for U.S. fishermen and seafood producers. CBP is a global leader in forced labor enforcement, and we will continue to protect U.S. consumers and businesses from the commodities of modern slavery. “
John Leonard, acting executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade, also said, “We have determined that this fishing fleet, based in Dalian, China, has been committing forced labor crimes. Essentially enslaving nearly all of its employees, many of whom are from Indonesia …… That’s why we’re taking full action.”
In its investigation of the company, CBP determined that its conduct met all 11 International Labor Organization indicators of forced labor. CBP officials said the investigation revealed that many Indonesian workers employed by the company suffered physical violence, withholding of wages, debt bondage and abusive working and living conditions.
Earlier this week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai raised the issue of forced labor on fishing vessels and submitted a new proposal to the WTO asking members to pay attention to the problem in an effort to curb subsidies for illegal fishing.
Last May, the Indonesian government accused the Chinese ocean-going fishing vessel Long Xing 629 of forcing dozens of Indonesian workers to work 18 to 22 hours a day, subjecting them to starvation and other abuses and preventing them from leaving the vessel. The inhumane working conditions led to the death of at least three Indonesian workers, whose bodies were dumped into the Pacific Ocean.
The International Labor Organization estimates that 25 million workers worldwide suffer under slave labor conditions, and that some foreign companies use slave labor to produce and sell goods below market value.
CBP has previously issued detention orders against individual ocean-going fishing vessels, such as the Lien Yi Hsing No. 12, the Da Wang and the Yu Long No.2, etc.