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US House passes bill banning imports from China made with Uyghur forced labor

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (6-A04-W96-K38-S41-V38/WikiCommons)
September 23, 2020

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

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday to that would block imports from in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) unless proof can be shown that they are not linked to forced labor.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was introduced in March, amid growing evidence that internment camps in the region have increasingly transitioned from political indoctrination to forced labor, with detainees being sent to work in cotton and textile factories.

The House vote of 406-3 for the bill, which requires the Secretary of State to determine if imposing forced labor on Uyghurs and other Muslim Turkic groups constitutes crimes against humanity or genocide under U.S. law, clears the way for a vote in the Senate.

The bill follows a year of heightened U.S. scrutiny of  Beijing’s sprawling network of camps in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.

Washington is also taking measures to block imports of suspect goods and to sanction and hold to account Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations in the XUAR. The U.S. has warned U.S. firms to ensure supply chains in China do not involve forced labor.

The legislation says that supplier vetting in the XUAR is “unreliable due to the extent forced labor has been integrated into the regional economy, the mixing of involuntary labor with voluntary labor, the inability of witnesses to speak freely about working conditions given government surveillance and coercion, and the incentive of government officials to conceal government-sponsored forced labor.”

The bill notes that goods made by forced labor are illegal under the Tariff Act of 1930, which rules that such products are “subject to exclusion or seizure and may lead to criminal investigation of the importer.”

The bill would ban as products of forced labor “all goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China,” the legislation says.

Exceptions for XUAR goods will be made when the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection “determines, by clear and convincing evidence, that any specific goods, wares, articles, or merchandise … were not produced wholly or in part by convict labor, forced labor, or indentured labor under penal sanctions,” it said.

Tuesday’s vote follows the announcement on Sept. 14 of new customs actions to block imports of Chinese products believed to be produced with forced labor.

The Withhold Release Orders, measures intended to prevent goods suspected to have been made with forced labor from entering the United States, targeted a vocational school and three hair, apparel and fabric entities from Xinjiang, as well as a computer parts firm from Anhui province in eastern China.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) welcomed Tuesday’s approval of what it called the “the first national legislation anywhere in the world enforcing human-rights standards to end the import of goods made with Uyghur forced labor.”

“Americans do not want to be complicit in buying products made by Uyghurs locked in Chinese forced-labor factories,” said UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat in a statement.

“The Senate must also act, and all governments must enact measures to counter the Chinese government’s mass atrocities, committed on a scale not seen since World War II,” added Kanat.

From Germany, World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Issa called the vote a “historic day for the Uyghur people” and urged swift follow-up.

“I hope the US Senate pass the Act in a speedy manner and President Trump to sign it into law,” he told RFA.