US customs bans Chinese fishing fleet products over forced labour allegations


The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) imposed an import ban on seafood from the Chinese Dalian Fishing Company over forced labour allegations, including abuses against Indonesian workers.

The action marks the first time the CBP has banned imports from an entire fishing fleet, as opposed to the individual vessels targeted in the past, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Friday.

“DHS will continue to aggressively investigate the use of forced labour by distant water fishing vessels, and by a wide range of other industries,” Mayorkas told a news briefing.

“Producers and US importers alike should understand that there will be consequences for entities that attempt to exploit workers to sell goods in the United States.”

The CBP said it will immediately detain tuna, swordfish and other products from the Dalian Ocean Fishing Co Ltd at US ports of entry.

The “withhold release order” banning the imports also applies to other end-use products containing seafood from the company, such as canned tuna and pet food, a CBP official said.

CBP officials said the agency’s investigation revealed that many Indonesian workers hired onto Dalian Ocean Fishing vessels found conditions far different than what they expected and were subjected to physical violence, withholding of pay, debt bondage and abusive working and living conditions.

Earlier this week, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai called attention to the issue of forced labour on fishing vessels, submitting a new proposal to the World Trade Organization to curb subsidies to illegal fishing and requiring that member countries recognize the problem.

US imports from Dalian Ocean Fishing are small, totalling US$2.9 million between Jan. 01, 2019, and April 30, 2021, according to CBP data.

But the issue of forced labour is a growing flashpoint in strained US-China relations, after numerous recent import bans related to China’s detention of Uyghur Muslims in the far-western Xinjiang region.

The move comes less than two days after Tai held an initial conversation with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.

The Trump administration, during its last week in office in January, announced a sweeping import ban on all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over allegations that they are produced with Uyghur forced labour – a far-reaching move that would require apparel and textile industries to reorder their supply chains. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)