The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in Congress

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SEATTLE, Washington — As its title suggests, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act aims to prohibit the importation of goods that were produced by the forced labor from the Uyghur minority in China. The act criticizes and seeks to punish China’s gross human rights abuses, including the imprisonment and oppression of more than one million Uyghurs, through economic sanctions on companies and individuals involved with the forced labor of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act

The goal of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is to stop the U.S. from importing goods made from forced labor in the region of Xinjiang, China. In doing this, the U.S. government would put pressure on China to end the forced labor of the minority Uighur Muslims in the region.

The act declares that it is U.S. policy to ban goods produced or manufactured by forced labor in Xinjiang, China, particularly from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It hopes to encourage others in the international community to reduce their imports of goods made, wholly or in part, from forced labor in China. It also works to prevent and denounce human trafficking, “to regard the prevention of atrocities as in its national interest” and to address human rights violations committed in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region through bilateral engagement with China and multilateral institutions.

If passed, the act would require “importers to obtain certification” from the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection that the goods were not made with the use of forced labor. Only if the U.S. government has “clear and convincing evidence” that the goods and merchandise were not produced using convict labor, forced labor or indentured labor may the goods be imported. In essence, this requirement would shift the burden of proof so that the default assumption is that all goods from Xinjiang, China are made using forced labor as opposed to the current rule which only bans goods if there is reasonable evidence that they were made with forced labor.

Status of the Resolution

On March 11, 2020, Rep. James McGovern, D-MA-2, introduced H.R. 6210: Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the House. It currently has “30 cosponsors (23D, 7R).” The resolution was then referred to the House Committees on Ways and Means, Financial Services, Foreign Affairs and the Judiciary.

A related bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL the following day. That bill, S. 3471: Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, has “10 cosponsors (6R, 4D)” and was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Both the House and Senate versions for the Act are in the first stage of the legislative process.

Public Awareness on Forced Labor

Increased focus on the issue from the bill, along with a report from the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) and reporting from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other media outlets, has resulted in greater public awareness on forced labor. Several major multinational firms were reported to manufacture products that are suspected of either being made directly by forced labor or being sourced from supplies suspected of employing forced labor. These firms include Adidas, Nike, Costco, Calvin Klein, H&M, Coca-Cola and the Campbell Soup Company.

A few of the firms, in response to the unflattering reports, have claimed they forbid the use of forced labor. However, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would actually ensure that products made by forced Uyghur labor would not enter the United States. For now, the act’s progress in Congress has stalled due to lawmakers’ focus on the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, some members of Congress remain focused on ending forced labor in China.

Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

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