Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it has issued a forced labor finding against a Chinese company that manufactures stevia, which gives Customs and Border Protection officers the ability to seize and forfeit the products when they reach the U.S.
It’s the first forced labor finding the government has issued since 1996, and it marks the latest escalation as the Trump administration battles China over its treatment of ethnic and religious minorities conscripted to bolster the communist nation’s economic might.
CBP had slapped withhold orders on stevia imports from companies whose products were tied back to Inner Mongolia Hengzheng Group Baoanzhao Agriculture, Industry and Trade Co., Ltd., in 2016, after first learning that forced labor might have been used. The withhold release order meant the shipments were blocked from entry.
But the agency says it now has gone a step further, gathering credible evidence that prison labor is used. With that determination, CBP officers can now seize and begin the forfeiture process for shipments.
“Today’s finding tells U.S. importers who fail to eliminate forced labor from their supply chains that their shipments may be subject to seizure and forfeiture,” said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade.
Stevia is a natural sweetener used as a sugar substitute. It is derived from the leaves of the stevia plant.
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