The government has ordered inspectors to seize wrenches and steel pipes from certain factories in Shanghai, China, because they suspect they have been made from convict or forced labor, according to a directive to U.S. customs stations.

"It has been brought to the attention of . . . headquarters that certain wrenches and steel pipe exported from China and imported into the United States are produced by forced labor," said the order from the U.S. Customs Commissioner Carol Hallett. A copy of the directive was obtained Friday by the Associated Press."At this time we have reason to believe, but not conclusive evidence," of Chinese violations of the 1930 U.S. ban on forced labor imports, it said.

The order was praised by Asia Watch, a U.S.-based human rights organization collecting evidence of alleged Chinese slave labor exports, and by the chairman of the House of Representatives international trade subcommittee.

It "represents the first serious action ever taken by the United States against Chinese slave labor imports," said Chairman Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn.

Gejdenson said Customs acted on data recently presented to his subcommittee by Harry Wu, a former Chinese political prisoner.

Hallett's order said only that the information came "from sources outside of Customs."

If the products prove to be prison-made, they must be shipped out of the country, the directive said.

It listed steel pipes from the Shanghai Laodong (Labor) Steel Pipe Works plus monkey (adjustable), socket and spanner wrenches made by three Shanghai firms.

Some of the wrenches have the brand name "Laodong" or "Elephant" etched into their handles, the order said, alerting inspectors to look for attempted removal of markings or identification of origin.

Peter Yeo, Gejdenson's staff aide, said the goods are apparently made in the same factory using different names.

Gejdenson said he would introduce a resolution Monday urging China to allow international inspection of convict factories suspected of exporting and reform its penal system to halt arrests for political beliefs.