Lawmakers Call for Stronger Enforcement of Uyghur Forced Labor Ban, De Minimis Reform

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Jan 22 2024 |
House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) Photo courtesy @committeeonccp on X (formerly Twitter).

Members of Congress “remain deeply concerned that products tied to the CCP’s ongoing genocide against Uyghurs and other minorities… continue to find their way into American households.”

House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) are urging the Biden administration to strengthen enforcement of the landmark law that banned goods made in the Chinese region of Xinjiang from entering the United States.

In a Jan. 17 letter sent to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland, Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi write that “several factors seriously undermine the effective enforcement” of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), and call upon the Biden administration to “aggressively step up enforcement of potential UFLPA violations by goods shipped from the PRC and indirectly through third countries.”

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the letter, noting that the two lawmakers requested that the administration undertake a series of steps to strengthen enforcement, including working to “increase criminal prosecutions of those who profit from the use of Uyghur forced labor, and expand the use of a U.S. Justice Department task force aimed at trade fraud.” 

The UFLPA, which passed Congress nearly unanimously, is designed to stop imports made with forced labor in Xinjiang from reaching the United States. Because forced labor is so prevalent in the region, Congress opted to pass a blanket ban of all products made in whole or with parts from Xinjiang.

But as Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi note, importers have found ways around the ban, including by shipping goods through third-party countries. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities allegedly transfer forced laborers from Xinjiang to other regions in China, which means that while goods may not technically be made in Xinjiang, they are still made using forced labor from people who are from Xinjiang.

In response, Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi called upon the Biden administration to expand the UFLPA Entity List to ensure that the law applies to companies that are technically located outside of Xinjiang but still maintain affiliation with “companies and entities in the region.” This practice is most prevalent in the seafood, gold, and critical minerals industries, Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi write.

Another way importers dodge UFLPA enforcement is by exploiting a trade loophole known as “de minimis,” which allows any package entering the United States that’s valued under $800 to enter duty-free. The loophole has been infamously exploited by Chinese brands like SHEIN and Temu, along with import-reliant companies like Amazon, which ship cheap goods directly to consumers from China.

Not only is this bad policy giving importers a massively unfair advantage over U.S. manufacturers — the New York Times has an in-depth story today outlining de minimis’s negative impact on textile producers in the Carolinas — this business model has allowed these brands to effectively dodge UFLPA enforcement. SHEIN and Temu, whose goods have been linked to Xinjiang, sent one-third of the 1 billion de minimis packages that entered the United States in 2023, Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi write.

Kim Glas, president and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations, noted that the “government’s failure to fully enforce the UFLPA and the de minimis loophole is devastating US textile and apparel manufacturers.”

“Today, this vital domestic manufacturing industry is facing unparalleled demand destruction as a direct result of market forces that have been exacerbated by anemic customs and trade law enforcement. Chinese cotton from Xinjiang is flooding the global marketplace, making its way to our doorsteps and into our closets,” Glas said in a statement. “As a result, we need a comprehensive and aggressive solution from the administration to confront these practices head on.”

There is a lot that can be done to tackle the de minimis problem. The Treasury Department, Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi note, is allowed to alter de minimis eligibility if deemed necessary to “prevent unlawful importations.” The duo therefore asked DHS to examine “the potential effect on UFLPA enforcement efforts of altering de minimis eligibility for textile and apparel and other high-risk items, including determining whether exceptions to de minimis treatment are warranted for certain highrisk items to prevent unlawful importations.”

Congress doesn’t have to wait on the administration to address de minimis, either. There are multiple pieces of legislation that aim to close the de minimis loophole, including the Import Security and Fairness Act, which the Alliance for American Manufacturing supports.

AAM President Scott Paul on Monday thanked the two lawmakers for their letter, remarking that while “it’s notable that more than 2,500 import shipments have been denied by U.S. Customs and Border Protection since the UFLPA went into force, implementation of the law has not been adequate.” Paul also called up Congress to pass the Import Security and Fairness Act, as well as hold DHS “accountable and push for stronger enforcement.” 

Importers are going to do everything they can to continue to dodge UFLPA enforcement, which is why it’s vital that Congress and the Biden administration fully enforce the law and stop the flow of goods made with forced labor from breaching American shores.

You can help: Tell your Members of Congress to support the Import Security and Fairness Act! It’s past time to close this infuriating loophole that undermines American manufacturers and gives bad actors an advantage when sending their products, many of made with forced labor, to the United States.