The Associated Press (AP) reported Tuesday that a coalition of major U.S. companies, including Walmart and General Motors, is quietly lobbying the government to make certain import data confidential — a change that would make it much more difficult for journalists and human rights activists to link imported goods to abusive labor practices abroad, including forced labor in China’s Xinjiang province and child labor in Africa.
Human rights lawyer Martina Vandenberg called the closed-door proposals “outrageous” and said American corporations should be “ashamed that their answer to this abuse is to end transparency.”
“Curtailing access to this information will make it harder for the public to monitor a shipping industry that already functions largely in the shadows,” agreed University of British Columbia professor Peter Klein, a prominent analyst of global supply chains.
In essence, the corporate executives who make up the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee proposed “modernizing” import/export procedures in a variety of ways, one of which would make “data collected from vessel manifests confidential.”
This would frustrate the current practice of journalists using shipping manifests to determine where goods manufactured or harvested with abusive labor practices were sent, a key tactic in pressuring U.S. companies to stop allowing forced labor into their supply chains.
As the AP pointed out, this seems directly contrary to CBP’s commitment to “boost visibility into global supply chains, support ethical sourcing practices and level the playing field for domestic U.S. manufacturers.” Corporate public relations departments have also been assuring American consumers they wish to cleanse their supply chains of forced labor and child labor.