Everything You Need to Know About Forced Labor

08/30/22 6 minute read

What is forced labor?

Forced labor occurs when individuals are compelled against their will to provide work or service through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. U.S. Customs and Border Protection defines forced labor as all work or service under the threat of any penalty for its nonperformance and for which the worker does not offer work or service voluntarily. Similarly, indentured labor is defined as work or service performed pursuant to a contract, the enforcement of which can be accomplished by process or penalties. 

The International Labor Organization created a list of indicators to help criminal law enforcement officials, inspectors, trade union officers, and NGO workers identify people who are possibly trapped in forced labor. Some of these include:

  • Debt bondage
  • Isolation
  • Retention of identity documents
  • Restriction of movement 
  • Withholding of wages 
  • Abusive working & living conditions
  • Excessive overtime
  • Intimidation and threats

Why is forced labor prevention important?

Forced labor is a human rights violation that remains widespread around the world, including in the United States. The International Labor Organization estimates that 24.9 million people are in forced labor situations. Victims are rarely able to seek help, due to a number of reasons not limited to language barriers, being monitored by their employer, or even being physically unable to leave the premises. 

Forced labor victims around the world are of any age, race, religious affiliation, gender identity, or nationality. However, the following characteristics put people at a higher risk for forced labor as traffickers generally target vulnerable populations: 

  • Unstable immigration status
  • Language barriers
  • Poverty and lack of basic needs like food, shelter, and safety
  • The psychological effects of a recent or past trauma
  • Lack of social support systems like friends, family, and community
  • Physical or developmental disabilities

What is the latest in forced labor prevention?

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), passed on December 21, 2021, is the culmination of a years-long investigation by the United States into alleged human rights abuses perpetrated on Uyghur, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim ethnic minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region by China. The UFLPA, which went into effect on June 21, 2022, is unique in its enforcement protocol. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made clear that all imports from Xinjiang will at least be detained – in some cases seized – unless the importer can provide “clear and convincing evidence” that the goods are free of forced labor. This is a major step towards weakening the forced labor industry in China. 

>> Learn the 5 ways the UFLPA is making trade history <<

Similarly, on August 2, 2017, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) became law. CAATSA created a rebuttable presumption that significant goods, wares, merchandise, and articles mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part by North Korean nationals or North Korean citizens anywhere in the world are made with forced labor and prohibited from importation under the Tariff Act of 1930. 

These laws are just two examples of steps the United States has taken to prevent forced labor. Around the world, other countries have made similar declarations. For instance, in 2020 Canada established a law that banned the import of any product from any country made with forced labor, but is now considering further legislation that would prevent imports from the Xinjiang region. 

Around the world, the International Labor Organization monitors and lobbies for stricter enforcement of forced labor laws.  


How can you ensure there is no forced labor in your supply chain?

Laws like the UFLPA have shifted the burden of proof to the importer. Corporations looking to import goods into the United States from regions known for their use of forced labor should take it upon themselves to audit their supply chain for any risk of forced labor involvement. 

>> Learn about the far-reaching implications of the UFLPA in our expert panel webinar <<

Difficult as it has been for U.S. authorities to pinpoint sources of forced labor in Xinjiang and in other regions, CBP has a list of sanctioned entities known to have committed human rights violations. Importers should cross reference their supply chain with entities on that list. In the case of the UFLPA, rebutting the assumption of forced labor requires meticulous supply chain documentation demonstrating that the goods in question are either a) unconnected with Xinjiang, or b) connected with Xinjiang but nevertheless free of forced labor. 

Adding to this challenge, is that bad actors are known to hide their criminal behaviors in complex ways. Technology, such as Sayari Graph, can be used to help investigators go deeper. Sayari Graph utilizes open source records and graph technology to map out connections and establish links between illicit actors, their infrastructure, and related business structures and transactions. It can be used to help organizations look for indicators of forced labor in global public records, scan for known high-risk companies, and screen beneficial owners to ensure a supply chain is unexposed. 

>> See how Sayari can be used to investigate global supply chains for forced labor <<

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