Citing Child Labor, U.S. Bans Apparel From Mongolia Plant

By Joseph Kahn, Union Network International, 29 November 2000

ASHINGTON, Nov. 28—The Customs Service has banned clothing imports from a Chinese-owned factory in Mongolia after finding that the company employs underage workers and forces them to stay at their posts for marathon shifts, the government agency said today.

The action comes amid increasing scrutiny of sweatshop factories abroad. During the prolonged debate about granting permanent trading rights to China earlier this year, the Clinton administration promised to step up scrutiny of labor practices there to guard against imports of goods made under oppressive conditions.

The detention order applies to about $1.5 million in imports of men’s and women’s apparel made by the Dong Fang International factory in Mongolia. The factory is controlled by Chinese business interests, Customs officials said.

Nearly all the factory’s production is destined for the United States, the officials said. Much of the clothing carries the brand name of a Chinese company called Wuxi Guangming. But some is manufactured for well-known American brand names, including Van Heusen and Guess, they said.

Officials of the Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation of New York could not be reached for comment. A public relations employee of Guess Inc. of Los Angeles had no immediate comment on the Customs action.

A Customs officer based at the United States Embassy in Beijing determined after an on-site investigation that the factory used forced child labor on its assembly line. The officer also found that factory managers required employees to work 14-hour shifts seven days a week, deducted unreasonable sums from paychecks for miscellaneous expenses, and provided substandard housing, Customs officials said.

The use of forced labor of children is morally, ethically, and legally wrong, Raymond W. Kelly, the Customs commissioner, said, adding, Our investigator visited the factory and made these findings, so we put this order in place.

Though it is illegal to import goods made with child labor, the Customs service rarely issues such import bans. The service does not stage surprise inspections on foreign soil and acts only with the cooperation of foreign governments, a restriction that makes it difficult to prove allegations about abusive labor practices.

But, under pressure from private groups and Congress, the Customs Service has stationed officers in several foreign embassies and stepped up investigations of foreign factories where possible, Mr. Kelly said.