US Orders Seizure of Imports of Chinese Sweetener After Finding Forced Labor Was Used
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said Oct. 20 it found “conclusive evidence” a Chinese company used forced labor to make the sweetener stevia, and ordered American ports to seize all shipments.
After an investigation, CBP said it had determined that Inner Mongolia Hengzheng Group Baoanzhao Agriculture, Industry and Trade Co. used convict, forced, or indentured labor to produce stevia extracts and derivatives, the agency said in a statement on Tuesday. It added that those products are being, or are likely to be imported to the United States. Stevia is a plant extract used as a sweetener in sodas and other foods.
The investigation arose after the agency received a tip-off in 2016 from a non-government organization that stevia produced by the Chinese company was made with prison labor. That year, the CBP issued a detention order on imported stevia produced by Baoanzhao based on “reasonable but inconclusive proof” of forced labor.
The CBP determination, the agency’s first ruling forced labor finding since 2006, instructs U.S. port directors to seize any shipments and commence forfeiture proceedings.
“Today’s Finding tells U.S. importers who fail to eliminate forced labor from their supply chains that their shipments may be subject to seizure and forfeiture,” Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade, said in a statement.
In August, U.S. company Pure Circle USA agreed to pay a $575,000 fine to settle a CBP investigation that it had imported stevia from Baoanzhao made with forced labor.
The agency has stepped up its investigations of imports suspected to be made with forced labor in China. Since September 2019, it has issued nine detention orders or “Withhold Release Orders (WROs)” against products from China.
In September, the CBP issued five WROs against cotton, hair products, clothing, and other products made in Xinjiang, cracking down on the regime’s “illicit, inhumane, and exploitative practices of forced labor.” The regime has detained more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims and other Muslim minorities in the northwestern region.
In June, the CBP seized 13 tons of human hair products worth $800,000 suspected to have been made by forced labor in the region of Xinjiang, China. Activists and researchers believe the hair was sourced from Uyghur Muslim inmates detained in the region’s vast network of internment camps.