Ways and Means Democrats Question Trump Administration’s Enforcement of Prohibition of Forced Labor Palm Oil Imports

Dec 15, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA), Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), led Committee Democrats in requesting more information on U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) enforcement strategy to prevent palm oil made from forced and child labor from entering the United States. After receiving insufficient answers to prior questions on enforcement strategies for other withhold release orders (WROs), the lawmakers pressed Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan to give U.S. consumers confidence that they are not buying goods that are produced in illegal and abhorrent working conditions.

“The kinds of products impacted by these abhorrent labor practices are broad,” the Ways and Means Democrats emphasized. “Estimates suggest that palm oil is used in about half of items one would find in a typical grocery store, including an expansive number of everyday products. Thus, an incredibly expansive range of U.S. supply chains are likely tainted by the labor practices used to produce palm oil.”

“In our view, these odious labor practices and their pervasive impact across supply chains highlight the need for an aggressive and effective enforcement strategy,” added the lawmakers.

The members acknowledged that CBP took “a step forward by issuing a withhold release order (WRO) on one of the worst actors in the palm oil sector, FGV Holdings Berhad (FGV). Allegations of the use of forced labor by FGV date back to at least 2015 and continue to be documented.  The issuance of this WRO is certainly a move in the right direction.”

But they went on to note that “issuing a single WRO will clearly not address the ubiquitous forced labor problems in the palm oil sector described above. With that in mind, we are interested in learning more about CBP’s palm oil enforcement strategy, both with regard to the WRO on FGV and more generally across regions.”

The lawmakers requested further information by December 29, 2020 regarding:

  • CBP’s enforcement plan regarding the existing WRO on FGV.
  • How CBP is approaching potential remediation plans regarding FGV. It has developed an “Action Plan” that aims to address issues related to forced labor and press reports have noted that some evidence has been presented to CBP. However, stakeholders have noted deep skepticism regarding whether FGV's efforts, including the recent Action Plan, will effectively address these issues.
  • CBP’s enforcement strategy beyond forced labor products made by FGV. Forced labor problems in palm oil are present well beyond FGV facilities and appear to be prevalent across at least Malaysia and Indonesia.

Read the full letter HERE.