CBP Issues First Penalty for Imports Made with Forced Labor

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has penalized a U.S. importer for importing goods made with forced labor.  The $575,000 penalty against stevia sweetener importer, Pure Circle U.S.A., Inc. is the first penalty issued since the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 tightened restrictions on imports made with forced labor.

CBP states that the action is the result of an investigation into stevia produced in China, which was initiated after allegations arose from a non-governmental organization.  During the investigation, CBP obtained evidence that the Pure Circle had imported at least 20 shipments of stevia powder and derivatives produced from stevia leaves from Inner Mongolia Hengzheng Group Baoanzhao Agricultural and Trade LLC that were processed in China with forced prison labor in violation of U.S. law.

Pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 1307, goods produced in whole or in part with forced labor are prohibited from entering the United States.  Any shipment suspected of being produced with forced labor will be detained by CBP and will be denied entry if CBP determines that force labor was used in the production of the good.   The penalty against Pure Circle is one of many actions CBP has taken over the past year to address the use of forced labor.  Since September 2019, CBP has issued four Withhold Release Orders (WROs) against goods from China and seven WROs against products from other countries.

Responsibility Business Practices for Importers

Brenda Smith, Executive Assistant Commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade, emphasized that “companies have a responsibility to proactively monitor their supply chains to mitigate the risk of importing goods into the United States that were produced with forced labor” and to protect their business from civil or criminal prosecution due to forced labor violations.  CBP’s website contains valuable information and guidance on the topic, including: