This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The United States took new measures on Thursday to address China’s use of Uyghurs as forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), halting imports from a major Chinese producer of polysilicon for the solar panel industry and blacklisting other firms operating in the region.
Forced labor is on a long list of serious human rights problems that have been documented in the XUAR and is cited along with the incarceration of an estimated 1.8 million people in detention camps since 2017 and forced birth control by the U.S. government and others as evidence of genocide of the Uyghurs.
The targeting of polysilicon makers followers similar moves since last year against hair products, electronics, tomatoes, and cotton made in Xinjiang with suspected forced labor.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO) stopping shipments from China’s Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., Ltd., a major producer of solar panel inputs using Uyghur labor in the XUAR, and its subsidiaries, under a U.S. law banning the import of products made with forced labor, the White House said in a statement.
“CBP investigates allegations of forced labor in U.S. supply chains and will continue investigating allegations in the polysilicon industry and other industries in Xinjiang and elsewhere,” it said.
In a related step, the U.S. Commerce Department added five Chinese companies and organizations, including Hoshine, to its list of blacklisted entities for accepting or using forced labor in the XUAR and contributing to human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups there.
The action restricts the export, reexport, or in-country transfer of commodities, software, and technology subject to U.S. export regulations in cases in which the entities are a party to the transactions.
The other four entities barred from access to the U.S. market are Xinjiang Daqo New Energy Co., Xinjiang East Hope Nonferrous Metals Co., Xinjiang GCL New Energy Material Technology Co., and the paramilitary Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).
The Commerce Department previously blacklisted 48 Chinese governmental or commercial entities that it said were connected to human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR.
Additionally, the U.S. Labor Department updated its “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” to include polysilicon produced with forced labor in China in violation of international standards.
China’s polysilcon market is forecast to grow 15.7 percent a year from 2020 to 2027, when it will be worth U.S. $3.3 billion, according to a Global Polysilicon Industry analysis issued in April.
“These actions demonstrate our commitment to imposing additional costs on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for engaging in cruel and inhumane forced labor practices and ensuring that Beijing plays by the rules of fair trade as part of the rules-based international order,” the White House said.
“We’re working very closely with the private sector — it’s a public-private partnership — to achieve a shared objective, a shared goal, and a shared imperative of rooting out forced labor wherever it might exist,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a CBP news briefing.
Legislation in the making
In January, the CPB issued a WRO to detain all cotton products and tomatoes from the XUAR at U.S. ports of entry, saying that the agency had identified indicators of forced labor.
Currently, 35 of 49 active WROs are on goods from China, and 11 WROs are on goods made by forced labor from the XUAR, the White House statement said.
A 2020 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimated that more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of the XUAR to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019, though it said that the actual figure was likely to be far higher.
Under conditions that strongly indicate forced labor, the Uyghurs worked in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 global brands in the technology, clothing, and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony, and Volkswagen, the report said.
The measures announced by the White House coincided with the approval by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a bill that aims to address the systematic use for Uyghur forced labor in the XUAR and to ensure that U.S. companies are not complicit.
The bill would create the presumption that all imports from the XUAR are in violation of U.S. laws prohibiting the import of goods produced by forced labor, and places the onus on importers to show that goods coming from the XUAR or other Chinese government labor schemes for Uyghurs were not produced with forced labor.
The legislation also requires the president to impose targeted Global Magnitsky sanctions on those responsible for serious human rights abuses in connection with forced labor and to report to Congress on diplomatic efforts to strengthen bilateral and multilateral cooperation to address the issue.
The bill, which cleared the House Foreign Affairs Committee in April, now awaits full passage by both houses of Congress. It is the second major piece of U.S. legislation to address the Uyghur human rights crisis following the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act enacted in June 2020.
Congress is also considering the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act, which designates Uyghurs who are at risk of refoulement in multiple countries as priority refugees.
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) urged swift passage of the forced labor bill, introduced by lawmakers more than a year ago.
“The Senate’s action puts a spotlight on both the corporate sector and the U.S. government,” said Nury Turkel, chairman of the board of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), in a statement.
“Any and all business ties with the Uyghur region risk complicity with genocide. This has to end,” added Turkel, who also is a commissioner at the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
German parliament declaration
Also on Thursday, the German parliament’s Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid declared that serious human rights violations against the Uyghurs are crimes against humanity.
“The declaration of the Human Rights Committee of the German Bundestag is an important step to hold the Chinese government accountable for its brutal actions against the Uyghurs, but further actions need to be taken,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, in a statement.
“We hope that the issue of genocide will also be discussed meaningfully during the plenary session of the Bundestag,” he said.
The declaration was preceded by a public hearing on May 17 during which international criminal law experts and China experts acknowledged the Chinese government’s crimes against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in the XUAR.
That same month, the Scientific Services of the German parliament concluded in a report that China’s government was committing genocide against the Uyghurs in violation of the Genocide Convention of 1948 to which China is a signatory and ratifying state. The organization then urged the Bundestag to recognize the situation as genocide.
Parliaments in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Lithuania have determined that China’s policies in the XUAR constitute genocide. The U.S. government in January designated abuses in the region as part of a campaign of genocide.
Reports by RFA, other media outlets, rights groups, and independent researchers have documented other systematic abuse against the Uyghurs, including large-scale forced detentions in “re-education camps,” political indoctrination, torture, sexual violence, and widespread surveillance and monitoring.