Congress Moves to Stop Influx of Goods Made by Forced Uyghur Labor

Sep 22 2020 |
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Despite growing public condemnation, China continues to expand its labor camps. Meanwhile, dozens of big name companies continue to exploit forced Uyghur labor.

UPDATE : The House on Tuesday overwhelming passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in a bipartisan 406-3 vote. The effort now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) already has introduced companion legislation. Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not indicated whether the bill will get a vote, it is believed that it is likely to pass on a simple voice vote should the legislation come to the floor.

Continuing efforts to pressure China to desist in its campaign to eradicate Uyghur culture, the House will consider two bills this week that target the importation of goods made by forced labor in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province.

Sponsored by Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would bar any goods manufactured or produced in Xinjiang from entering the United States. Additionally, the bill would require the president to impose property-blocking sanctions on any individuals or entities who knowingly facilitate the forced labor of Uyghurs or other Muslim majority groups in Xinjiang.

The House will also consider a bill introduced by Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act of 2020, which would mandate that U.S. issuers of securities report the importation of any goods or materials that originate from Xinjiang or a forced labor camp, as well as any plans to import such goods.  

“I’ve said it over and over,” Pelosi said during a Sept. 18 press conference previewing the bills, “if we refuse to speak out about human rights in China because of commercial interest, then we lose all moral authority to speak about human rights anyplace in the world.”

It is estimated that the number of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgz and other ethnics minorities that have been detained by Chinese authorities and forced into re-education and labor camps is between a staggering 1 and 3 million. And, as international attention on these camps has grown, increasingly troubling information about the conditions of the camps and the measures China has taken to eradicate Uyghur culture have come to light, including forced sterilizations, torture and a plethora of other horrific abuses.

Disturbingly, it appears that China has been emboldened by the relative impunity with which it has conducted its Uyghur genocide and has begun replicating its coercive Xinjiang labor programs in other parts of China.

A report released this week by the Jamestown Foundation alleges that the Chinese government has established military-style camps in Tibet and already forced 500,000 local rural laborers to be re-trained as factory workers and sent to work in factories in Tibet or other parts of China.

However, despite the international community’s growing awareness and condemnation of the Chinese government’s human rights violations, Western companies continue to exploit forced labor in Xinjiang with many of these goods ultimately making their way onto U.S. shores.

In March, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute identified 83 global brands, including Nike, Gap, Target, H&M and BMW of contracting factories in Xinjiang that utilize forced Uyghur labor.

Since the report was issued, H&M has said that it will no longer source cotton from Xinjiang and no longer conduct business with a yarn producer accused of participating in forced labor, although H&M states that the relationship was indirect and that its own investigation of its supply chain found no evidence of forced labor.

As Xinjiang is estimated to contribute 85 percent of China’s cotton production, many companies have supply chains deeply enmeshed in Xinjiang, and the challenge of ending the use of the region’s forced labor camps poses considerable challenge. However, there is strong bipartisan support to such ends.

Earlier this year, the House voted 413 to 1 to pass a measure that sanctioned several Chinese officials and companies purportedly involved in the campaign against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities, evidencing a groundswell of bipartisan support that seems likely to usher at least one of the forthcoming House bills into passage.