2,398 for the US, 1 for Canada: That's a record for one-sidedness in the targeting of forced labor

A Uyghur activist voiced his concerns at an event in Washington, D.C., this month. It came during discussions about a new US law targeting modern slave labor.

At the think-tank meeting, people evaluate how the law has worked and how it hasn't acted since it was enacted six months ago.

During the discussion, Omer Kanat pointed to one problem: US trading partners. He said some did little to stop the trade in forced labor goods. And he mentioned one country in particular: a neighboring country.

"Canada has not stopped any shipments," the former journalist and prominent Uighur advocate told a meeting at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Although [Canada] has an obligation to enforce the prohibition of forced labor items under the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement."

Awkward, but true.

The new US law came into force 6 months ago

Countries agreed in the new NAFTA to ban the import of products made wholly, or partly, by forced labour; Canada then rooted the rule in its own domestic law.

At this stage, however, the enforcement record appears to be one-sided. If someone were to jot down the scores, the results would look something like: 2,398 for the United States, 1 for Canada.

That's how many shipments each country had, in the last fiscal year, stopped at customs on suspicion of containing goods of forced labour.

Canada isn't actually blocking anything permanently. The only shipment that was intercepted, clothing from China, was allowed in after the importer appealed.

Speeds in the United States, meanwhile, are still picking up.

Forced labor fills our cupboards: the US is pursuing it in an unprecedented way

US Customs and Border Protection is now halting more goods since the new law went into effect on June 21 and, at current rates, could target more than 5,000 shipments over a 12-month span.

The US has not released detailed breakdowns of how many of these shipments ended up coming through and how many were permanently blocked.

The main impetus for the new law is well-documented human rights violations against Uyghurs, who live in China's Xinjiang region.

Beyond that, the US also recently added 32 products from multiple countries to an older list of prohibited items; on a separate measure, recently targeted sugar companies in the Dominican Republic.

Canada risks trade penalties, Liberal lawmakers say

Canada better wake up, says a Canadian lawmaker. Otherwise, he warned, the country faced economic consequences.

The stark gap, said Liberal lawmaker John McKay, could eventually lead the US to file a complaint under our trade pact and then, potentially, impose retaliatory penalties on some Canadian goods.

"There will be retaliation. And that's totally understandable," McKay told CBC News in an interview.

"It's totally understandable that America will be disappointed with us. Because they are upholding the Canada-US-Mexico free trade agreement and we are not doing ours," he said.

"It's not right. Economically stupid, but morally it's not right."

McKay pushed a private member bill, S-211, through Parliament that would have forced large companies to file a report annually detailing steps being taken to eradicate forced labour.

It has already passed in the Senate and received a second reading in the House of Commons, and McKay hopes it will become law in the spring.

He said he didn't understand why Canadian Customs was holding up, briefly, just one shipment — and wondered whether it was a lack of resources, or legislation, that was the problem.

To be fair, the US has a big head start in preparing for this: Americans have had their own anti-forced labor laws for almost 100 years.

Companies face threats overseas

A trade expert and industry consultant defends Canada.

Eric Miller says importers are working to solve very complex problems. As an example, he cites a seemingly simple product: T-shirts.

It takes about 100 steps to manufacture—from harvesting the cotton to final delivery to stores—and he says it's difficult to carry out inspections at every step of the supply chain, because components pass through multiple hands through factories in several different countries.

Meanwhile, the company faces threats. In China, for example, companies that cooperate with foreign sanctions face public boycotts as well as penalties under the new law.

Miller said countries can make all the promises they want in a trade agreement — but that won't mean much without systemic changes, such as new tracking technology, new laws, and more public and private sector personnel.

"[Otherwise] it's like me saying, 'I want to run the Boston Marathon.' And then I sit on the couch and eat Cheetos all day," said Miller, a Canadian-born trading advisor at the Washington-based Rideau Potomac Strategy Group.

"No one in any sector of the Canadian economy wants to support forced labour.... It's not a lack of effort. There are good people working on this problem."

Miller suggested the US would be in the wrong place to file a trade case on the issue, as there is no evidence that Americans are close to solving the problem either.

U.S. Customs only physically inspected a small percentage of shipments, he said. It was left up to researchers and journalists to flag various examples of the ongoing importation of forced labor.

"The US doesn't know any of this either," Miller said.

There is no shortage of forced labor imports

Researchers continue to find evidence to suggest such imports remain abundant. Take one of the most recent studies of the auto industry by US universities and non-governmental organizations.

It warns that every major auto company in the world is exposed to the risk of importing goods produced by forced labor in Xinjiang, with 96 mining, processing and manufacturing companies operating there connected to the global auto sector.

Now several companies are pushing the US government to withhold records that help researchers identify such imports. This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS. 

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