American businesses are being pressured to stop imports from China’s Xinjiang region as the Biden administration and lawmakers take aim at Beijing’s alleged use of forced labor.
The Chinese communist government has been accused of using forced labor of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, the world’s leading producer of cotton and raw materials used in solar panels, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
China denies the accusations.
Cotton and tomato import products have been banned since January, and penalties on purchases of some solar materials were implemented in June, the WSJ said.
Congress, however, is expected to approve legislation later this year that would prohibit imports of all products from Xinjiang unless the importer can prove their goods are free of forced labor.
The Senate unanimously passed The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act last month. The legislation awaits approval by the House, which last year passed a similar bill by a wide bipartisan vote.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act also would increase resources for the Customs and Border Protection, which monitors forced labor abroad.
WSJ reported CBP had detained 967 shipments — roughly triple the cases in all of the previous year — in forced labor cases in the current fiscal year from October, mostly linked to the Xinjiang cotton bans.
“The legislation would substantially enhance enforcement by the CBP,” said Scott Nova, executive director of Worker Rights Consortium, a nonprofit, independent labor-rights monitoring group partly funded by universities. “That has significant implications for companies.”
Biden administration officials have said confronting China over its forced labor record is a key component of their strategy.
The State Department and other U.S. agencies, in guidance for businesses issued last month, highlighted forced-labor risks in supply chains linked to Xinjiang. U.S. businesses were urged to leave the region.
Agriculture, food processing, cellphones, and toys also were industries in which there were concerns.
“Given the severity and extent of these abuses, businesses and individuals that do not exit supply chains, ventures, and/or investments connected to Xinjiang could run a high risk of violating U.S. law,” the agencies said in the Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the guidance demonstrated the administration’s commitment to ending forced labor.
“Our worker-centered trade policy will champion workers’ rights and address unfair competition, especially when it is based on human exploitation,” Tai said, the WSJ reported.
The Chinese communists say “Xinjiang affairs are purely China’s internal affairs.”
“The U.S. is in no position and has no right to interfere,” said Liu Pengyu, a Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington, WSJ reportted. “The U.S. fabricates lies and uses human rights as a cover to recklessly and hegemonically suppress Xinjiang’s industrial development.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., has led a bipartisan congressional commission that expressed concerns about the endorsement by NBA players of Chinese sportswear companies known to use Xinjiang cotton.
The WSJ also said a House panel passed legislation last month that labels Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs as “genocide” and prohibits the importation of goods made “wholly or in part” in Xinjiang or by people working elsewhere in China through the Xinjiang government worker-placement programs.
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