As part of its continuing efforts to protect US communications networks from communications equipment and services that pose a national security risk, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on June 17, 2021, released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry (NPRM/NOI) seeking comments on its proposal to prohibit the authorization (and revoke existing authorizations) of any communications equipment on the list of equipment and services that the Commission maintains pursuant to the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 (referred to as the Covered List). The NPRM/NOI also proposes to require entities participating in competitive bidding for FCC licenses to certify that its bids do not rely on financial support from any entity the FCC has designated as a national security threat to the integrity of communications networks or the communications supply chain. Continue reading →
On January 13, 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a withhold-release order (WRO) on all cotton and tomato products from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) based on information that reasonably indicated that such products used forced labor. This action comes after CBP’s December 2020 WRO on cotton and cotton products produced by Xinjiang Production and Construction Corporation (XPCC). Continue reading →
On January 19, 2021, the Commerce Department issued an interim final rule to implement the Executive Order on Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain (E.O. 13873), which was issued on May 15, 2019. The interim rule comes after the November 2019 proposed rule implementing E.O. 13873.
On December 21, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) published a Military End User (MEU) list to further implement the military end user/end use (MEU) rule defined in Section 744.21 of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). An EAR license is required to export or reexport to the listed entities a broad range of items subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
On December 2, 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued an import detention or Withhold Release Order (WRO) against cotton produced by Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) based on information that reasonably indicated XPCC used forced labor within its cotton supply chains. This action comes after CBP issued five WROs in September 2020 on products found to be reliant on state-sponsored forced labor in Xinjiang. The U.S. government has expressed ongoing concern about human rights abuses of the Uyghur minority in this part of China.
On November 12, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order (E.O.) prohibiting U.S. persons from engaging in any transaction (defined as a “purchase for value”) of publicly traded securities, or transacting in financial products that are derivative of, or provide investment exposure to, securities of designated Communist Chinese military companies (“Chinese Military Companies”).
The prohibition will enter into effect on January 11, 2021 at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time and currently applies to 31 entities that have been identified on a list of Chinese Military Companies published by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). U.S. investors will have until November 11, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time to fully divest from any shares or funds involving these 31 companies. Continue reading →
Over the course of the Obama and Trump administrations, U.S. officials have found new ways to incorporate human rights concerns into sanctions and export control policies. Recent announcements by the Commerce and State Departments address how, by the U.S. government in its licensing approvals, and private companies in their foreign-sales decisions, can take into account human rights impacts.
Export Licensing for Dual-Use and Commercial Products
On October 6, 2020, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a final rule revising the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to allow the agency to consider human rights concerns when granting export licenses. Specifically, BIS amended its licensing policy for items controlled for crime control (CC) reasons under 15 CFR §742.7.
The final rule also expands the existing EAR human rights licensing policy. The prior licensing policy provided for case by case review for CC-controlled items “unless there is evidence that the government of the importing country may have violated internationally recognized human rights.” The final rule now would allow BIS to consider the risk that items will be used in violation or abuse of human rights by individuals or entities in addition to the government or the importing country. Further, licensing officers will now review how an item may be used to engage in, or enable, violations or abuses of human rights (not just “internationally recognized” human rights), including through censorship, surveillance, detention, or excessive use of force. Importantly, the new provision also allows the agency to consider such risk for items controlled for reasons beyond CC, covering most items listed on the Commerce Control List (with the exception of items controlled for short supply). The final rule specifically notes the need to examine items controlled for reasons related to certain telecommunications and information security and sensors.
State Department Guidance for Surveillance Tools
Separately, on September 30, 2020, the Department of State released guidance designed to assist U.S. businesses in assessing the risk that surveillance tools exported to foreign government end-users could be used to commit human rights abuses.
The guidance entitled, “U.S. Department of State Guidance on Implementing the UN Guiding Principles for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities,” provides a roadmap for businesses to assess the risk of human rights abuse prior to engaging in a transaction with a foreign government end-user and provides recommended contractual and procedural safeguards should the business proceed with the transaction. The guidelines are non-binding and, according to a statement by a State Department official, they will not be used as a basis for sanctions against foreign governments.
The State Department encourages U.S. businesses to integrate human rights due diligence into compliance programs, including export compliance programs. The following eight recommendations are provided to assist companies seeking to conduct human rights due diligence, screening, and risk mitigation—
- Review the capabilities of the product or service in question to determine potential for misuse to commit human rights violations or abuses by foreign government end-users or private end-users that have close relationships with a foreign government.
- Review the human rights record of the foreign government agency end-user of the country intended to receive the product or service.
- Review, including through in-house or outside counsel, whether the foreign government end-user’s laws, regulations, and policies that implicate products and services with surveillance capabilities are consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Review stakeholders involved in the transaction (including end-user and intermediaries such as distributors and resellers). Refer to BIS’s Know Your Customer Guidance.
- To the extent possible and as appropriate, tailor the product or service distributed to countries that do not demonstrate respect for human rights and the rule of law to minimize the likelihood that it will be misused to commit or facilitate human rights violations or abuses.
- Prior to sale, strive to mitigate human rights risks through contractual and procedural safeguards and strong grievance mechanisms.
- After sale, strive to mitigate human rights risks through contractual and procedural safeguards and strong grievance mechanisms.
- Publicly report on sales practices (e.g., in annual reports or on websites).
The guidance is designed for U.S. companies that engage in transactions involving sensors, biometric identification, data analytics, internet surveillance tools, non-cooperative location tracking, and recording devices, among other products and services. While the guidance is not designed to address export control licensing, the State Department has suggested that the guidance may be used as a resource during export license reviews in cases that raise a human rights concern.
These two announcements form part of a slow-but-steady growth among U.S. officials looking for ways to use existing trade regulatory tools to recognize human rights considerations. Other examples include recent U.S. Customs withhold release orders (WROs) for certain goods produced from forced or indentured labor in Xinjian, China here; Hong Kong trade treatment in the wake of human rights abuses in that territory here; and Global Magnitsky sanctions designations here.
On September 15, 2020, a World Trade Organization (“WTO”) panel found that the Trump Administration’s unilateral tariffs imposed on Chinese products violated WTO rules regarding nondiscrimination and import tariff rates agreed to by the United States. The dispute concerned China’s challenge to the Trump Administration’s tariffs imposed pursuant to the Trump Administration’s investigation under Section 301 of China’s intellectual property and technology transfer practices. Specifically, China challenged USTR List 1 (discussed here) and List 3 (discussed here).
On September 14, 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued five Withhold Release Orders (WROs) for a range of goods produced in the Xinjiang region of China. Under 19 U.S.C. § 1307, CBP can initiate enforcement actions for products made wholly or “in part” by forced or indentured labor—defined as “work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its nonperformance and for which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily,” as well as forced or indentured child labor. CBP issues WROs following an investigation if it finds that information “reasonably but not conclusively” indicates that the goods have been made in whole or in part by such forced labor. A WRO prevents the products from being released by CBP into the United States.