Recent action taken by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) illustrates the cost of turning a blind eye to forced labor in supply chains and underscores the importance of provable due diligence when it comes to responsibly sourcing minerals.

On October 1, 2019, the CBP issued five Withhold Release Orders (WROs) for different products being imported into the U.S. based on information the agency received indicating the products had been produced with forced labor. The following products were subject to the WROs:

  • Gold from artisanal small mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
  • Garments from Hetian Taida Apparel Co. in Xinjiang, China.
  • Disposable rubber gloves from Asia Pacific Sdn. Bhd. in Malaysia.
  • Rough diamonds from the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe.
  • Bone black manufactured in Brazil by Bonechar Carvao Ativado Do Brasil Ltda.

Importers with goods subject to a WRO must demonstrate those goods were procured without the use of forced labor, or re-export those goods to a different country. Proof must be submitted within three months of the WRO.

Responsible Sourcing of Gold

Tin, tantalum tungsten and gold (3TGs) are the subject of conflict minerals regulations around the world, including Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act in the U.S. These regulations require companies to make reasonable efforts to determine if 3TGs in their supply chain may benefit armed groups in the DRC and its adjoining regions. While the Dodd-Frank Act requires publicly-traded companies to make annual reports on their due diligence activities, enforcement penalties under the act are rare.

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Regulations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry groups and consumer activism have created a push for companies to perform due diligence activities and identify forced labor or other human rights violations in their supply chain. The recent WROs demonstrate the need for companies to adopt such practices in order to avoid serious operational and reputational harm.

Sasha Lezhnev, Deputy Director of Policy at the Enough Project, addressed the recent WRO, stating: “The U.S. Customs action sends a strong signal to U.S. tech, financial and other companies — either do their homework on gold from Congo and countries it is smuggled or refined in, or risk having their shipments stopped at the border.” The Enough Project seeks to counter armed groups and other corrupt actors benefiting from the extraction and trafficking of natural resources.

Enforcement on the Rise

A total of six WROs have been issued thus far in 2019, up from the two issued in 2018. No WROs were issued in 2017. Under the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, it is illegal to import goods made full or in part with forced labor. The law also prohibits convict labor as well as indentured labor and child labor. 

Mining in the DRC

In 2015, it was estimated there were nearly 2 million artisanal miners in the DRC. These miners are at risk of exploitation from armed groups and frequently work in unsafe conditions. A lack of oversight and government presence creates the conditions that allow armed groups to run forced labor mines, as is allegedly the case with the gold that was the subject of this year’s WRO. Tools such as the Conflict Minerals Reporting Template (CMRT) and third-party auditing are working to create a trusted network of responsibly sourced minerals from the DRC and eliminate the threat of forced labor.

How Assent Can Help

The Assent Compliance Platform automates supplier engagement and leverages the CMRT to efficiently collect data related to conflict minerals. Learn how Assent can help empower your responsible minerals program, contact us today.

Jared Connors
Director, Sustainability

Jared is focused on helping companies achieve their corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals through increased understanding and mitigation of risk. His 12 years of leadership in human rights, anti-bribery  Read More

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