US Blocks Imports From Chinese Laptop Maker Tied to Lenovo, Google

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The US will start blocking laptop imports from a Chinese manufacturer accused of using forced labor at internment camps in China to build products.

On Monday, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced it would begin confiscating imports from Hefei Bitland, a laptop and smartphone manufacturer that once publicly counted Lenovo and Google as its customers.

According to federal officials, Hefei Bitland is among the Chinese manufacturers that has been using “state-sponsored forced labor” at internment camps dedicated to persecuting the Uyghur Muslim minority in China. Human rights groups and journalists estimate as many as one million Uyghurs have been detained in the internment program, which is focused on “re-education” and using inmates as a source of low-cost labor.

“The Trump Administration will not stand idly by and allow foreign companies to subject vulnerable workers to forced labor while harming American businesses that respect human rights and the rule of law,” said Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan in today’s announcement.

The news arrives as Lenovo recently imported 258,000 laptops from Hefei Bitland, including Chromebooks bound for US schools, according to The Intercept, which reviewed the shipping records.

Google and Lenovo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the CBP’s action. But according to the Associated Press, Lenovo told custom officials in July it was no longer building products at Hefei Bitland manufacturing sites. This came after the US Commerce Department also sanctioned Bitland for taking part in the forced labor activities. As a result, US companies are barred from exporting technology to the manufacturer unless they receive government approval.

According to Hefei Biland’s website, the Chinese company also struck partnerships with HP, in addition to Foxconn, the world’s largest contract supplier for electronics. But HP told PCMag, Hefei Bitland Information Technology is not a direct supplier.

“We have robust policies in place to protect human rights and prohibit the use of involuntary labor of any kind across our supply chain,” HP said. “We are committed to ensuring everyone in our supply chain is treated with dignity and respect.”

Along with the imports from Hefei Bitland, the CBP also plans to block imports for hair products, processed cotton, and apparel gear from three other Chinese manufacturers. How federal officials tied the companies to the forced labor activities wasn’t entirely made clear, but the agency says it relied on a “variety of sources, including the general public.”

An estimate from an Australian think tank claims at least 82 well-known brands have also directly or indirectly benefited from the use of Uyghur workers possibly as forced laborers.

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