On May 18, 2018, CBP issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO) banning the importation of all Turkmenistan cotton or products produced in whole or in part with Turkmenistan cotton. The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (TFTEA) was signed into law P.L. 114-125 on February 24, 2016. It was created to ensure a fair and competitive trade environment. TFTEA prohibits all products made by forced labor, including child labor, from being imported into the United States.
On April 6, 2016, members of the U.S. Cotton Campaign, Alternative Turkmenistan News, and International Labor Rights Forum had submitted a petition to CBP requesting the agency ban the importation of all goods made with Turkmen cotton produced with forced labor under 19 U.S.C. § 1307. Merchandise made with forced labor is subject to exclusion and/or seizure, and may lead to criminal investigation of the importer(s).
These three groups alleged that the Turkmen government forces public sector employees under threat of punishment, including loss of wages and termination of employment, to pick cotton. Further, the groups claimed that “[i]n the 2017 cotton harvest, in addition to forced mobilization of adults, the government of Turkmenistan forced children 10-15 years old to pick cotton in violation of international and domestic laws,” he added. When information reasonably but not conclusively indicates that merchandise made with forced labor is being imported, CBP may issue a WRO pursuant to 19 C.F.R. § 12.42(e).
CBP’s ban means retailers and brands need to move quickly to identify and eliminate Turkmen cotton from their supply chains.