Imports of sea food from an entire fleet of a Chinese company were blocked by the United States government late last week. The US alleged that the Chinese company forced crew members to work in slave-like conditions which resulted in the deaths of a number of Indonesian fishermen last year.
An immediate ban on imports linked to the more than 30 vessels operated by Dalian Ocean Fishing was imposed by the Customs and Border Protection. This ban was imposed under a US law that allows authorities to ban import of goods that are suspected to have been produced forced labor.
As recently as 2018, the total import of sea food from Dalian, which mainly fishes high-grade tuna, was more than $20 million. Those shipments have come down because of financial troubles as well as a greater focus on the Asian market. The Chinese company shipped $1.8 million worth of cargo to the US in 2019; nearly $321,000 in 2020; and $763,000 through April 30 of this year, CBP said.
“We will not tolerate any amount derived from forced labor,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters as he announced the measure.
Using a law that has been on the books for decades presumably for protecting US producers from unfair competition, a withhold release order that halts shipments that have suspected links to forced labor was issued by CBP.
In recent years, the US has been using the law frequently partly because of a growing awareness that many companies in a range of industries were using what is essentially modern-day slavery. In such circumstances, workers are forced to work long hours for low pay – and sometimes nothing at all, and are often beaten up or face other forms of violence.
John Leonard, the acting executive assistant commissioner of the agency’s Office of Trade, said that all 11 criteria for forced labor laid out by the International Labor Organization were met by Dalian’s operations, across the fleet, CBP found. Those criteria include holding back of wages, inhumane conditions and physical intimidation.
“This was a rather egregious example,” Leonard said.
Abusive conditions in the Chinese fishing industry have also been documented by both the State Department and Labor Department of the US. According to such records, companies in the industry often recruit foreign workers and force them to work for 18 to 22 hours a day under abysmal conditions.
Imports from specific companies, individual fishing vessels as well as all cotton and tomato produced kin the Xinjiang region of China have been halted by the US authorities using the Tariff Act of 1930. There are allegations against the Chinese government that it is waging a brutal assimilation campaign against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region.
In May 2020, Indonesia’s government accused the Chinese fishing company of indulging in “inhuman” treatment of fishermen hired from Indonesia. The government alleged that dozens of men from the country were forced to work 18 hours a day for no pay or less than agreed upon. The working conditions resulted in at least three Indonesians being killed after they fell ill. The government also alleged that company threw the dead bodies overboard into the Pacific Ocean.
(Adapted from CNBC.com)