Guilty Until Proven Innocent 

by Janet Labuda

May 15, 2018
The legal premise of innocent until proven guilty gets turned on its head with the passage of the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” known as CAATSA. At a government meeting last week representatives from the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Labor, and Treasury participated in a panel discussion of addressing North Korean forced labor in the supply chain.

A kickoff of the two hour meeting by Assistant Secretary (Homeland Security) Michael Dougherty and Deputy Assistant Secretary (State) Scott Busby set the stage for highlighting the seriousness of this enforcement focus that is starting to descend on the import community. The government officials were joined by Greg Scarlatolu, Executive Director, Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and Bob Mitchell, Vice President, Responsible Business Alliance.

The panel focused specifically on CAATSA Section 321(B) which provides for sanctions on goods produced by North Korean forced labor. It was stressed that these sanctions are part of the Administration’s larger strategy regarding the denuclearization of North Korea.

The State Department indicated in the last call for information on forced North Korean labor from U.S. embassies around the world, 39 countries reported the use of such labor. In the latest call for information, the number of countries reporting the use of forced Korean labor has risen to 59. China exceeds the number of laborers followed by Russia, and various Southeast Asian nations along with those in Latin America. While North Korean forced labor has been used in the countries of the Middle East and Africa it appears that here it is part of a construction labor force.

Key industries where North Korean forced labor is used include textiles and footwear, mining, seafood, logging, and pharmaceuticals.

The panel stressed the need for comprehensive due diligence by and on behalf of U.S. companies involved in importing goods. Careful consideration of, and reasonable care with respect to, the different risks presented in your supply chain should always be taken into account when importing into the United States. Failure to do so will result in seizures, penalties, and possible criminal prosecution.

The presumed prohibition of merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured with North Korean nationals or citizens may be overcome by “clear and convincing evidence.” Clear and convincing evidence is a higher standard of proof than a preponderance of the evidence. Determining that the importer has met this standard will be under the authority of U.S Customs and Border Protection. Importers will have to show clear evidence that the goods were not produced with convict labor, forced labor, or indentured labor.

You are encouraged to read the newly published FAQ document which can be found posted on the Department of Homeland Security’s website. One area to note is section 8 of the document entitled: “What steps should my company take to ensure North Korean workers are not in our supply chain?” While many questions were raised regarding the due diligence aspect, the government was adamant that when it comes to due diligence there is no such thing as one size fits all. In addition, they stressed that use of prior disclosure may mitigate the penalty, but does not exonerate one from having committed a violation.

I highly recommend intense training on this issue and that someone in the corporate legal department and someone in the import compliance department join forces to ensure that strong corporate measures are in place to address this hot burner issue.

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