The U.S. Has a “Moral Responsibility” to Fully Implement the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Apr 08 2022 |

Yet another study was released on Friday finding that China’s government is using forced labor in Xinjiang. The United States must rigorously enforce its ban on imports from the region.

Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul testified on Friday morning before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is not typically an agency concerned with matters related to manufacturing.

In this case, however, the hearing focused on implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a new law that bans imports of all products made in the Xinjiang region of China. DHS is the agency charged with implementing and enforcing the new law, tasked with ensuring that products made in Xinjiang don’t make their way onto U.S. shelves.

The reason for the ban: There’s ample evidence that China’s government is utilizing forced labor in Xinjiang. China’s leader Xi Jinping and his government are overseeing a genocide of the Uyghur people and other minority groups in the region, and part of that effort includes forcing people to work in factories or pick cotton.

Numerous studies have highlighted China’s forced labor practices — and how American corporations are complicit in these human rights abuses. For example, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that Uyghurs are forced to work in factories that supply 82 well-known brands; multiple studies have reported forced labor is prevalent throughout China’s solar supply chain. Meanwhile, cotton from Xinjiang is pervasive throughout the globe, accounting for 85% of China’s production and 20% of the world’s supply.

And on Friday, the research team at Horizon Advisory unveiled a new report showing that Western automakers, including General Motors, BMW, and Volkswagen, are linked through suppliers to forced labor in Xinjiang. Specifically, the auto companies are sourcing aluminum from the region, where researchers say all eight major aluminum companies operating there use forced labor.

As Horizon Advisory notes, Xinjiang is “a major industrial engine for China. China is a major industrial engine for the world. As a result, global supply chains across key and foundational industries are exposed to forced labor in Xinjiang.”

While China’s government is perpetrating the genocide, there’s no doubt that Western companies are helping to fund it by continuing to source from Xinjiang. Last year, Congress rightly addressed this by passing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, in a 428-1 vote in the House and a rare 100-0 vote in the Senate.

Importing products made with forced labor was illegal before the law was passed. But the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act goes a step further, as bans all imports from Xinjiang, placing the burden on companies to prove their goods were not made with forced labor before they can be brought onshore.

Still, implementing the new law will likely be difficult, as corporations — many of which lobbied against it — could continue to fight to weaken it. Which brings us to Scott Paul’s testimony on Friday.

Paul told the agency that the United States has the “moral responsibility and the legal obligation” to block imports of all goods made with forced labor, and in this case, the U.S. should reject any argument that upholding this law will be “too difficult, will be too costly, or will conflict with other priorities.” He testified:

“Any exceptions to the import prohibition should be granted infrequently, narrowly, and only after ‘clear and compelling’ evidence is provided by an importer that has completed a robust due diligence process… AAM urges enforcement policies that squash attempts to create or exploit loopholes that undermine the law, including transshipment, supply chain gimmicks, obscuring actual sourcing, and other questionable evasion practices.”

We talk a lot about unfair trade practices here at AAM, and we long have argued that trade rules should be enforced to help level the playing field for U.S. manufacturers and workers. But what is happening in Xinjiang is different.

This isn’t a case of a company getting unfair government subsidies or even being owned outright by the state. What’s happening in Xinjiang is a human rights catastrophe, as potentially millions of people have been purposely displaced from their homes, separated from their families, placed into concentration camps and forced to work in factories or in fields.

No product made in Xinjiang should make it to U.S. shores, whether it’s a pair of jeans or a solar panel or the aluminum for a new automobile. Companies should move their supply chains out of Xinjiang now — and the U.S. must do everything in its power to enforce this important new law.