WASHINGTON — U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s agency-wide forced labor team has been awarded the 2021 Service to America Medals (“Sammies”) People’s Choice Award by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.
“I’m incredibly proud of the CBP team for being recognized as the People’s Choice Award winner in the Partnership for Public Service’s 2021 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals,” said Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller. “Eliminating forced labor from U.S. supply chains is a priority for CBP and we remain dedicated to ending this egregious abuse of human rights.
Led by Executive Director Ana B. Hinojosa and Deputy Executive Director Eric Choy, CBP’s forced labor team is responsible for investigating goods suspected of being made with forced labor and preventing them from entering the United States.
“Our forced labor team is committed to its mission and works exceptionally hard to investigate allegations of forced labor in U.S. supply chains," said AnnMarie Highsmith, Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Trade. "The information that they uncover allows us to take strong enforcement actions to keep illicit goods out of our country, stores, and homes.”
According to the International Labour Organization, as of 2016, 25 million people suffer under conditions of forced labor around the world. Those conditions include physical and sexual violence, debt bondage, withholding of wages, and other human rights abuses. Goods made by forced labor hurt workers, undermine law-abiding U.S. businesses, and subject unsuspecting American consumers to making unethical purchases.
Under Executive Director Hinojosa’s and Deputy Executive Director Choy’s leadership, CBP has developed a robust civil investigative program to identify forced labor in U.S. supply chains and take appropriate enforcement actions. When CBP has information reasonably indicating that certain goods are made by forced labor, the agency will issue a Withhold Release Order to prevent those goods from being imported into the United States. CBP can also issue monetary penalties for certain forced labor offenses and refer cases to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations for criminal investigation.
Since 2016, CBP has issued 32 Withhold Release Orders on goods including cotton products from China’s Xinjiang region, palm oil from Malaysia, and seafood from various fishing vessels. During that same period, CBP prevented more than $350 million of goods suspected of being made by forced labor from entering U.S. commerce, including hair products made with human hair. Last year, CBP levied the first monetary penalty for forced labor imports in recent history and also issued the first forced labor finding in a quarter century. This March, CBP levied an additional finding due to the use of forced labor in the production of disposable gloves. These are the only enforcement actions of their kind in the world.
CBP’s enforcement authorities are limited to U.S. supply chains, but that has not stopped the agency from working with foreign governments to increase overall awareness and strengthen global efforts to end forced labor. Canada and Mexico committed to work with the United States to address forced labor under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and the G7 countries committed in June to ensure that global supply chains are free from the use of forced labor forced labor.
CBP maintains a proud tradition of vigilance, integrity, and excellence in public service. Since 2015, the Sammies have recognized CBP employees for using pollen analysis to solve serious crimes; implementing a facial comparison system to secure and facilitate international travel; implementing an electronic single window for imports and exports that has saved the government and businesses billions of dollars; and reducing airport wait times while ensuring the highest possible security standards.
The Sammies are the premier awards program recognizing America's best in government. Renamed the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals in 2010 to commemorate the organization’s founder, the program has honored more than 500 outstanding federal employees since its inception in 2002. More information about the program and the 2021 finalists is available online.
More information about CBP efforts to combat forced labor is available at CBP.gov or on Twitter @CBP and @CBPTradeGov.