A congressionally-sponsored panel that overseas bilateral trade and
economic ties between the United States and China says there is
evidence that products made by prison labor in China are making their
way to American stores, despite U.S. laws that ban such goods. The
U.S. - China Economic and Security Review Commission held a hearing on
the issue Thursday, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
United States and China signed two documents, a Memorandum of
Understanding in 1992 and a Statement of Cooperation in 1994, which
sought to guarantee that Chinese-made products imported into the United
States were not made by prison labor.
But a member of the
U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Peter Videnieks,
says there is evidence that such goods are making their way into this
"Although formal agreements have been made between the
U.S. and Chinese governments to stop the export of prison labor goods
to the U.S., the practice nonetheless continues," he said.
Wu is an activist for human rights in China, where he spent 19 years in
labor camps. He established the Laogai Research Foundation, which is
widely recognized as a leading source of information on China's labor
Wu, now a U.S. citizen, provided the commission with a
list of Chinese forced labor camps, many of which are labeled product
He told the panel the U.S. is not doing enough to stop products made by Chinese prison labor from reaching its shores.
law is clear in this matter: products produced by prison labor are
prohibited from being imported into the United States, regardless of
the ramifications that enforcement of the prohibition may have on
relations with other countries," he added.
The U.S. agency
responsible for enforcing the law prohibiting the importation of forced
labor products into the United States is Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE). Under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding,
the agency can request that the Chinese government investigate prison
labor allegations relating to U.S. exports and can call upon U.S.
embassy officials to visit prisons alleged to have produced goods for
export to verify whether such products are being exported to the United
But Daniel Ellis, a lawyer who works on commercial
litigation involving unfair competition and international trade issues,
says U.S. investigators are finding their task nearly impossible
because China has been reluctant to take action
"The guys that
are trying to do the investigation are really hamstrung by the
requirements on the Memorandum of Understanding to have the Chinese
government or the prison to self-incriminate themselves," he
explained. "As its written and enforced, it isn't functional. It
doesn't work. And it's clear it doesn't work."
Director of ICE's Office of International Affairs, James Ink, was more
diplomatic, but did express frustration over the slow pace of China's
response to his agency's requests to investigate a number of cases of
alleged Chinese prison-made products exported to the U.S.
they stonewalling? I can't give you any certainly on that, sir," he
said. "I don't have enough empirical data. I can tell you that things
are not moving as fast as we would like."
Harry Wu said the
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) does little to uphold U.S. law and
rather only serves to provide China with diplomatic cover that it can
use to defend itself in the face of criticism over the export of prison
"As a first step, I recommend that the MOU
between the United States and the PRC be revoked, as it has proven to
be totally ineffective in providing enforcement of United States law,"
Gary Marck, an American importer and distributor of
drinkware products, says goods made by Chinese prison labor exported to
the U.S. are sold at a much lower prices than imported products not
made by forced labor, giving them an unfair and unlawful competitive
"The law abiding companies must choose to exit the
business, because the price in which the product is sold cannot be
matched by lawful means or join in the unlawful importation of products
from prison factories," he explained.
recommendations made by the commission that would require U.S.
importers to certify that goods are not made by prison labor, block
imports from facilities where inspections by U.S. Customs are not
allowed within 60 days of the request to inspect, and establish a list
of suspected firms for use by U.S. importers so they could avoid
importing products from those companies.