By Mara Lee, International Trade Today

NEW YORK -- The standard of proof for cotton importers is tremendously high, compliance officials said during a panel at the Nov. 10 Apparel Importers Trade and Transportation Conference.

Janet Labuda, head of compliance at Maersk customs services and a former director of CBP's Textile Enforcement and Operations Division, gave the example of a manufacturer that bought organic cotton from India but ginned it in China. She said a CBP official asked: "How do you know there wasn't one thread of [Xinjiang] cotton caught in the machine?"

The importer spent $500,000 in storage, legal and demurrage fees, but did not prevail, and lost $10 million in sales, as well as an entire season's worth of products.

Labuda said that when she worked at CBP, she asked if the agency could give more direction on what "clear and convincing evidence" is, but her colleagues said that if they were to give 10 examples of steps to take, a company would say, "Well, I did nine, is that good enough?"

The most recent Labor Department report on child and forced labor said there are 158 goods from 77 countries that are made with either child labor or forced labor.

"I think that is going to be a blueprint for the forced labor task force," Labuda said. "Once we have the new calendar year kick in, I think we’re also going to see more enforcement."

Altana AI, a company that sells artificial intelligence software that attempts to penetrate deeper into supply chains, also participated in the panel. Kristen Daniels, Altana's business development lead, said the company is working both with private companies and regulators, and has identified a million companies tied to forced labor across 590 industries.