The U.S. government on Friday blocked seafood imports from the entire fleet of a Chinese company that authorities said forced crew members to work in slavery conditions, which resulted in the death of several Indonesian fishermen last year.

Customs and border protection said they would immediately suspend all imports related to the more than 30 vessels operated by Dalian Ocean Fishing, under a US law prohibiting goods suspected of being produced with forced labor.

Imports from Dalian, which catches mainly high-quality tuna, exceeded $ 20 million as recently as 2018. Amid financial problems and greater focus on the Asian market, shipments have plummeted . CBP said the company shipped $ 1.8 million worth of goods to the United States in 2019; nearly $ 321,000 in 2020; and $ 763,000 until April 30 of this year.

“We will not tolerate any money from forced labor,” Internal Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters when announcing the measure.

CBP has issued what is known as a Withholding Release Order that stops shipments suspected of being linked to forced labor, under a law that has been in place for decades, apparently to protect U.S. producers from the unfair competition.

The law has been used more and more frequently in recent years, given the growing awareness of the prevalence of what is essentially modern slavery in a range of industries, with workers forced to work long hours for low pay, if any, and subjected to violence.

CBP found that Dalian’s operations, across the fleet, met the 11 criteria for forced labor defined by the International Labor Organization, including wage deduction, inhumane conditions and physical intimidation, said John Leonard, the agency’s acting executive assistant commissioner. Trade office.

“It was a pretty glaring example,” Leonard said.

The State Department and the Labor Department have also documented abusive conditions in the Chinese fishing industry, where most foreign crews often work 18 to 22 hours a day under appalling conditions.

U.S. authorities used the Tariff Act of 1930 to halt imports from specific companies, individual fishing vessels, and all cotton and tomato products from China’s Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government is conducting a brutal assimilation campaign against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups. .

Friday’s announcement marks the first time the United States has sought to block imports from a company’s entire fishing fleet, a sign that CBP’s investigation has found evidence of widespread abuse on Dalian vessels worldwide.

In May 2020, the Indonesian government accused the company of “inhuman” treatment of the country’s fishermen, with dozens of men forced to work 18 hours a day for zero or less pay than agreed. He said the conditions had led to illnesses that killed at least three fishermen, whose bodies were thrown overboard into the Pacific Ocean.

Dalian did not immediately respond to a request for comment made through its website.

The company has had recent financial issues, but Leonard said it appears to be reorganizing and considering resuming operations. “We have to be vigilant,” he said.

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