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Mexico probing allegations of forced labor at tomato export firms

10/22/2021 | 10:12pm EST
Tomatoes are displayed at a vegetable stall in La Merced market, downtown Mexico City

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's government said on Friday that it has established a working group to investigate allegations of forced labor at two tomato export firms, after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it would bar imports from those firms.

The CBP said in a statement on Thursday that effective Oct. 21 its officers at all U.S. ports of entry would detain fresh tomatoes produced by the tomato farm Agropecuarios Tom S.A. de C.V., and Horticola S.A de C.V., and their subsidiaries.

CBP issued a withhold release order against Agropecuarios, Horticola and their subsidiaries based on information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labor against its workers.

Mexico's labor ministry said it has asked the economy ministry to open a communication channel with the companies, in coordination with the National Agricultural Council, and to carry out the corresponding investigations.

"If any breach of labor regulations is identified, a plan is established to guarantee the protection of workers' rights," the labor ministry said.

Following the CBP's order, "the tomato companies have the right to appeal the decision to the U.S. customs authority and present evidence that demonstrates their compliance with labor regulations, in order for the sanction to be lifted," the ministry added.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has said addressing forced labor allegations are a priority in its trade relations with Mexico.

Homeland Security Department Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Wednesday the administration wanted to make "clear that products made in whole or in part by forced labor will not be allowed into the United States... We will remove it from American supply chains."

The International Labor Organization estimates that 25 million workers suffer under conditions of forced labor worldwide, according to the Biden administration.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Adriana Barrera; Editing by Sandra Maler)

ę Reuters 2021
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