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US should pass legislation, enact sanctions to address forced labor violations in Xinjiang: report

Wuxi China Factory (Robert Scoble/Flickr)
March 12, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Lawmakers should pass legislation addressing forced labor violations in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and Washington should sanction Chinese businesses and officials complicit in those abuses, a U.S. congressional advisory panel said in a report, released Wednesday.

Global supply chains are “increasingly at risk of being tainted with goods and products made with forced labor from the XUAR,” the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) said in its report, while the inability to obtain reliable information from workers at risk of reprisals also makes it “increasingly impossible to conduct due diligence.”

“The risk for complicity in forced labor is high for any company importing goods directly from the XUAR or those partnering with a Chinese company operating in the region,” the commission warned.

The CECC said that forced labor exists both within the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017, as well as throughout the region, and called for “a concerted response from the U.S. Government and the international community.”

“U.S. businesses and consumers should not be complicit in forced labor and Chinese businesses should not profit from the forced labor of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities,” the report said.

The CECC recommended that U.S. lawmakers finalize and pass the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which would allow for sanctions against officials deemed responsible for the violations under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

Congress should also consider passing new legislation to expand the Trump administration’s authority to address forced labor in the XUAR through import controls, designation of individuals and entities for sanctions, and creation of due diligence requirements for companies operating in the region, it said.

The CECC called on the Trump administration to apply Global Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese businesses and officials complicit in forced labor in the XUAR and consider a comprehensive import ban on all goods produced, wholly or in part, in the region, among other measures.

Forced labor act

Wednesday’s report was released as the commission hosted a roundtable discussion on forced labor in the XUAR, during which CECC co-chairs U.S. Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida introduced the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would prohibit imports from the region to the U.S.

During opening remarks, McGovern said the legislation creates “a rebuttable presumption that all goods produced in the region are made with forced labor” unless U.S. Customs and Border Patrol can certify with “clear and convincing evidence” that they were not.

“Any U.S. or international company working in, or with suppliers in Xinjiang, should reconsider whether they want to be producing products in a region where there is evidence that crimes against humanity are being committed,” he said.

“It is long past time for companies to reassess their operations and supply chains and find alternatives that do not exploit labor and violate human rights.”

Rubio told attendees that the CECC’s report “should leave zero doubt about the evil policies of the Communist Party of China towards Uyghurs, towards other Muslim minority groups, and practices that sadly have injected … forced labor into American and global supply chains.”

“[This legislation] shifts the burden of proof to companies … that insist on producing in this region,” he said.

“It shifts the burden of proof with the presumption that, given these practices and what’s detailed in this report, we should assume that anything that’s produced in this region is done so through forced labor.”

Rubio said China’s policies in the XUAR, including mass incarceration and forced labor, amount to “one of the world’s largest human rights tragedies” and that it is “unimaginable, frankly, that this is happening in the year 2020.”

He cited commercial satellite imagery which shows factories being constructed alongside and even inside camps in the XUAR, and mounting evidence he said suggests forced labor is being used in the region’s cotton, agriculture, and light manufacturing industries.

“The widespread forced labor documented in the report clearly constitutes serious crimes sanctioned, perpetrated, approved, and directed by the Chinese Communist Party through their government,” he said.

Global retailers

A report last week by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said that tens of thousands of detainees in the XUAR have been transferred to factories throughout China, where they are forced to produce goods for at least 83 global retailers, including Apple, BMW, The Gap, Nike, Samsung, Sony, and Volkswagen.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey cited the report in a letter urging the Commerce Department to stop U.S. firms from purchasing goods produced under “horrific” forced labor conditions in the XUAR.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Wednesday denied that Uyghurs are subjected to forced labor, saying workers have signed labor contracts “on the basis of equality and mutual consultation with the employer” and “receive the appropriate compensation.”

The CECC earlier this year released an annual report which suggested that Beijing’s policies in the XUAR may meet the definition of “crimes against humanity”—a designation echoed last week by Naomi Kikoler, the director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and one of the world’s foremost experts on mass incarcerations in the XUAR, said that the designation means it is “possible to bring this [issue] to an international legal body as a crime, such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”