US modifies ban on tobacco imports from Malawi

United States Customs and Border Protection (CPB) has modified an existing Withhold Release Order on imports of tobacco from Malawi which was issued in 2019 due to concerns over child labour in production of the tobacco.

According to a CPB statement, effective May 21, 2021, certain tobacco imports from Premium Tobacco Malawi Limited (PTML) will be admissible at all U.S. ports of entry. This modification applies only to tobacco harvested by Club Growers in Malawi.

CBP issued a Withhold Release Order on tobacco imports from Malawi in November 2019 due to information reasonably indicating that the tobacco is produced using forced labor and forced child labor.

The Withhold Release Order continues to apply to imports of tobacco from Malawi by any company that has not demonstrated to CBP that its supply chain is free of forced labor.

According to CBP, it has modified the November 2019 Withhold Release Order based on a rigorous evaluation of PTML’s social compliance program and efforts to identify and minimize the risks of forced labor in its supply chain.

These actions produced evidence that sufficiently supports PTML’s claims that tobacco from club growers (smallholder growers that use little or no farm worker labor) is not grown and harvested using forced labor or forced child labor.

“CBP’s forced labor enforcement efforts continue to effect positive change for workers around the globe,” said John Leonard, Acting Executive Assistant Commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade. “Eliminating forced labor from our supply chains prevents the abuse of vulnerable workers, safeguards the competitiveness of law-abiding businesses, and protects consumers from unethically made products.”

This is the third time that CBP has modified the Withhold Release Order on tobacco from Malawi. The agency modified the Withhold Release Order in June 2020 to allow imports of tobacco from Alliance One International, LLC and again in August 2020 to allow imports of tobacco from Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company Ltd. Both entities fully addressed CBP’s concerns about the use of forced labor in their production processes.

US federal law prohibits the importation of merchandise mined, manufactured or produced, wholly or in part, by forced labor, including convict labor, forced child labor and indentured labor.