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The U.S. government supports the efforts of businesses to respect human rights and strives to protect against human rights abuses, including those committed by business enterprises.  The U.S. government continued to take steps towards this objective in 2020.  This fact sheet provides an illustrative snapshot of the U.S. government’s work undertaken in this regard over the past year.

Recent U.S. Government Laws and Policies to Advance Business and Human Rights

  • U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) strengthens protection of labor rights. The USMCA Labor Chapter and Rapid Response Labor Mechanism, a first-of-its-kind enforcement provision, allows for enforcement actions against individual factories that fail to comply with critical labor provisions.
  • Department of Homeland Security U.S. Customs and Border Protection issues an annual record 14 Withhold Release Orders (WROs) for goods produced by forced labor in 2020.  Of the 14 WROs, nine were on products imported from China.  One of the WROs was for cotton products made by Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).  The WRO applies to all cotton and cotton products produced by the XPCC and its subordinate and affiliated entities as well as any products that are made in whole or in part with or derived from that cotton, such as apparel, garments, and textiles.  These actions were based on information obtained and reviewed by CBP that reasonably indicates that the products were produced, in whole or in part, using forced labor.  Under U.S. law, it is illegal to import goods into the United States that are made wholly or in part by forced labor, which includes convict labor, indentured labor, and forced or indentured child labor.
  • Department of Homeland Security publishes Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking, the Importation of Goods Produced with Forced Labor, and Child Sexual Exploitation.  The strategy represents the Department’s vision to end forced labor and child sexual exploitation, including a long-term approach for combating these crimes, and a framework to prioritize resources and monitor progress.
  • Department of Homeland Security U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations open the Department of Homeland Security Center for Countering Human Trafficking (CCHT).  The CCHT, brings together resources and expertise across the Department to leverage its criminal and administrative authorities in a focused effort to combat human trafficking and the importation of goods produced with forced labor.
  • The Department of the Treasury sanctions XPCC and Chinese officials pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Sanctions Program.  Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) and two of its officials under Executive Order 13818, “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,” which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, for their connection to serious human rights abuse against Uyghurs, and members of other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang.
  • U.S. Government furthers implementation of the Principles to Guide Government Action to Combat Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains (Principles).  Launched jointly by the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom on the margins of the 2018 United Nations General Assembly, these Principles provide a framework for countries to prevent human trafficking in public and private sector supply chains.   The four Principles these governments have agreed to implement are:  1) take steps to prevent and address human trafficking in government procurement practices; 2) encourage the private sector to prevent and address human trafficking in its supply chains; 3) advance responsible recruitment policies and practices; and 4) strive for harmonization.   Since 2018, the five governments have met regularly to advance implementation of the Principles.
  • The Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security added additional Chinese entities to the Entity List that were implicated in human rights abuses in Xinjiang Province.  Entity Listings take into consideration foreign policy issues, including human rights.  In the past year, the Department of Commerce identified a large number of entities in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) implicated in human rights abuses in Xinjiang Province.  In 2020 24 entities were added to the Entity List, and 28 entities were added in 2019.  In December 2020 four entities were added for their involvement in human rights abuses in the PRC.
  • The Department of State-led informal U.S. government interagency working group held more than 12 meetings to monitor violence against environmental defenders in 2020.  The group engaged stakeholders and reviewed United Nations, NGO, and U.S. government reporting about violence against environmental defenders to best inform U.S. policy.
  • The Department of State-led Public-Private Partnership on Responsible Minerals Trade (the PPA) added project indicators related to human rights in mineral supply chain work.  The PPA provided grant monies to two organizations to accomplish this.
  • The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security amends export licensing policy in connection with human rights concerns.  Updates to how most export license applications are reviewed includes assessing whether items may be used to engage in, or enable violations or abuses of human rights including those involving censorship, surveillance, detention, or excessive use of force.

Recent U.S. Government Tools to Advance Business and Human Rights

  • The U.S. government releases the Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory.  The Advisory cautions businesses about the risks of supply chain links to entities that engage in human rights abuses, including forced labor, in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China.  The three primary types of supply chain exposure discussed in the Advisory are surveillance; forced labor and other labor abuses; and construction of internment facilities.  To amplify this message, the State Department shared the Advisory with U.S. business leaders and the governing boards of U.S. universities and colleges.
  • The Department of State releases Guidance on Implementing the UN Guiding Principles for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities.  The guidance is a first-of-its-kind tool intended to provide practical and accessible human rights guidance to U.S. businesses seeking to prevent their products or services with surveillance capabilities from being misused by government end-users to commit human rights abuses.
  • The Department of State continues to develop human rights risk management tools for the Responsible Sourcing Tool.The State Department and the NGO Verite developed the Responsible Sourcing Tool to assist U.S. federal contractors, procurement officials, and companies to better identify, prevent, and address the risks of human trafficking in their global supply chains.  It includes an in-depth examination of 11 key sectors and 43 commodities at risk for human trafficking or trafficking-related practices; 10 comprehensive risk-management tools; and tailored tools for the seafood sector and food and beverage sector.  Currently under development is a similar tool for the private security industry.
  • The U.S. government releases new annual reports on human rights, trafficking in persons, and worst forms of child labor.  These reports are the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor Report as well as the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor; and the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report and Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.  Companies rely on these reports as critical input into risk assessments, to conduct due diligence on their supply chains, and to develop strategies to address human rights abuses and human trafficking.
  • The Department of State contributes an additional $21 million to the Program to End Modern Slavery.  The funds are being used to mitigate risks of modern slavery in the construction sector (developing techniques to track migration routes, professionalizing recruitment practices, and building professional skills in India and the Philippines) and combatting forced labor in Vietnam’s apparel industry.
  • USAID launches a Global Development Alliance with PepsiCo to demonstrate the business case for private sector investment in women’s economic empowerment. This partnership will provide women with technical and leadership skills, strengthen land rights, and create income generation opportunities while simultaneously building the capacity of local PepsiCo staff to more directly include women in their supply chain.  The Global Development Alliance builds on USAID’s collaboration with PepsiCo in West Bengal, India, and aims to empower women in various agriculture supply chains in countries such as Colombia, Vietnam, Pakistan, and other states in India.
  • USAID continues to support the Global Labor Program to promote labor rights, increase access to justice, and advance decent work worldwide.  The five-year program, implemented by the Solidarity Center, supports country programs in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Georgia, Morocco, Lesotho, Liberia, South Africa, Colombia, and Mexico, with regional programs in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, Southern Africa, and Latin America.  For example, in Lesotho, USAID through Solidarity Center is partnering with the host country government, unions, women’s rights organizations, global brands, local factory owners, and others in a model project designed to address gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace in line with the new International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 190 on this topic.
  • U.S. Government serves as founding member of Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence.  In May 2020, the United States joined Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union to create the GPAI, the first international multi-stakeholder initiative to guide the responsible development and use of artificial intelligence (AI).  Its efforts are grounded in human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation, and economic growth.  In order to achieve this goal, the initiative will look to bridge the gap between theory and practice on AI by supporting cutting-edge research and applied activities on AI-related priorities.
  • The Department of Labor updates its Comply Chain mobile app.  Updates include new examples, recent legal developments, and information about specialized topics such as responsible recruitment and worker empowerment.  The app helps companies and industry groups develop robust social compliance systems to root out child labor and forced labor from global supply chains.  The Department funds a number of active projects that are piloting and integrating aspects of Comply Chain with business to reduce child labor and forced labor in global supply chains.
  • The Department of Labor launches webpage dedicated to compiling information related to state-sponsored forced labor in Xinjiang.  The page entitled “Against Their Will: The Situation in Xinjiang” includes reporting on various goods made with forced labor in the region.
  • The Department of Labor supports $19.25 million in projects to address child labor, forced labor, and other labor violations in Colombia and Mexico.  These projects are empowering girls and women in the coffee, flower, and sugarcane supply chains in Colombia and Mexico; increasing compliance with labor laws in agricultural supply chains in Mexico; and expanding activities of the Somos Tesoro project in Colombia, which addresses child labor and working conditions on coal and gold-mining supply chains.
  • The Department of Labor funds projects focused on due diligence in mining supply chains in line with the OECD Guidelines for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas (“Guidelines”).  Projects include the Somos Tesoro project in Colombia and the Caring Gold Mining project in Ghana and the Philippines that involve partnering with small-scale miners, governments, and other stakeholders to implement the Guidelines.
  • The Department of Labor provides funding to support Better Work.  Implemented by the International Labor Organization, this project works to improve labor conditions in the garment sector together with governments, private sector, and workers’ organizations. The Department supports Better Work in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Haiti, Jordan, Vietnam, and Ethiopia.
  • The Department of Labor funds projects focused on labor reform in Mexico’s auto sector to support implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).  Projects seek to (1) engage Mexico’s auto sector employers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, in the automotive production and vehicle assembly sector to raise awareness and conduct targeted interventions to proactively adopt labor practices consistent with Mexico’s labor reform; and (2) support the Mexico Secretariat of Labor’s Decent Work Unit to professionalize the labor inspection process and improve the government’s technology platforms used to facilitate labor inspections.
  • The Department of the Treasury launches website on Treasury’s role and tools in combatting human trafficking.  Treasury’s 2020 National Strategy for Combating Terrorist and Other Illicit Financing identified money laundering linked to human trafficking as one of the most significant illicit finance threats facing the United States. Treasury brings significant financial expertise to the fight against human trafficking and is committed to leveraging its economic tools to target, disrupt, and counter those who engage in human trafficking.
  • The Departments of State and Treasury release Report to Congress on Analysis of Anti-Money Laundering Efforts Related to Human Trafficking.  The report includes best practices for financial institutions to combat the illicit finance and money laundering associated with human trafficking and makes recommendations for financial institutions to enhance those efforts.

U.S. Department of State

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