CBP seizes 13 tons of possible human hair products from China, officials suspect child labor may be involved in manufacturing

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Newark, New Jersey – A startling find by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in New Jersey did more than just seize recently-designated contraband, but may have found evidence of forced child labor and human rights abuses in the process.

A Chinese hair product detained by CBP at the Port of New York/Newark due to information that it was produced using forced labor
A Chinese hair product detained by CBP at the Port of New York/Newark due to information that it was produced using forced labor

On July 1st, CBP officers at the Port of New York/Newark seized nearly 13 tons of hair products that were suspected to be composed of real human hair. The shipment was estimated to be worth approximately $800,000 and originated from Xinjiang, China.

The origin of the products and the manufacturing company, said to be Lop County Meixin Hair Product Co. Ltd., alerted CBP officers that these goods may have been manufactured by means of forced child labor or other forms of human rights abuses.

A CBP officer at the Port of New York/Newark displays a Chinese hair product suspected to have been made with forced labor
A CBP officer at the Port of New York/Newark displays a Chinese hair product suspected to have been made with forced labor

Back on June 17th, CBP specifically enacted what’s known as a Withhold Release Order against hair products manufactured in China under suspicion of these human rights abuses that are alleged to be taking place.

Brenda Smith, Executive Assistant Commissioner of the CBP Office of Trade, commented on the importance of addressing these matters:

“The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in U.S. supply chains.”

CBP personnel at the Port of New York/Newark inspect a shipment of Chinese hair products suspected to have been made with forced labor
CBP personnel at the Port of New York/Newark inspect a shipment of Chinese hair products suspected to have been made with forced labor

According to 19 U.S.C. 1307, it’s against federal law to import goods and merchandise that knowingly derives from the likes of forced labor camps abroad – whether they be prison camps, indentured labor, child labor camps and the ilk.

Outside of the obvious human rights aspects that importing these goods continues to perpetuate abroad, introducing merchandise manufactured in such a way also undermines fair trade and competition practices domestically.

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Back in February, CBP officials made a rather unusual seizure in Virginia. 

According to a press release by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, agriculture specialists from the CBP recently seized a package of deceased birds from a traveler’s luggage from the Washington Dulles International Airport.

The bizarre discovery, which was found in possession of a passenger who arrived from a flight from Beijing, China, was apparently packaged as some sort of pet food.  This happened to take place at around the same time that COVID concerns were arising stateside. 

The traveler had arrived at the Dulles, Virginia airport on January 27th and was destined continue on to Prince George’s County, Maryland.

After coming back from abroad, CBP engaged in a baggage examination – something fairly standard for international flyers heading back stateside. That’s when agents had discovered a package adorned with a picture of a cat and a dog on it, containing several small, dead birds.

According to CBP, the deceased birds are forbidden from entering the country via import or other means due to the potential threat of the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The package and contents were then incinerated under the direction and approval of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Casey Durst, Director of Field Operations for CBP’s Baltimore Field Office, stated the following on the discovery and seizure:

“These dead birds are prohibited from importation to the United States as unprocessed birds pose a potentially significant disease threat to our nation’s poultry industries and more alarmingly to our citizens as potential vectors of avian influenza.”

According to the CDC, the avian influenza (commonly called the bird flu) occurs naturally among wild, aquatic birds across the world and is capable of infecting not only poultry, but also other bird and animal species.

While the CDC notes that human contraction of the avian influenza isn’t common, there have been reported cases of human infection of the virus. The virus is shed though the saliva, mucous and feces of the infected birds. Thus, human contraction can occur when a person gets the virus in their eyes, nose, mouth, or inhales too much of the airborne virus.

Director Durst continued commenting on the seized birds:

“Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists continue to exercise extraordinary vigilance every day in their fight to protect our nation’s agricultural and economic prosperity from invasive pests and animal diseases.” 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the CDC all play a role in the regulation of what animals and animal products can be imported or introduced into the United States.

CBP agriculture specialists often serve as a first line of defense from potentially hazardous products making their way into the country.

The CBP states that these agents carry extensive training and experience in biological sciences and agricultural inspection. This faction of the agency typically inspects tens of thousands of international flyers, and air and sea cargoes being imported to the United States.

The agency also noted that on a daily average from 2019, CBP agriculture specialists “seized 4,695 prohibited plant, meat, animal byproduct, and soil, and intercepted 314 insect pests at U.S. ports of entry.”

While the bag in department photos appeared to be sealed, we couldn’t locate the same item sold online, or any item similar to it.

Yet, while there are certainly some cultural differences between the United States and China, it does seem odd that prepackaged deceased birds would be used as a cat or dog treat. Especially considering the risks of animals feeding on any kind of dead bird. 

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