In rare bipartisan support, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was passed by Congress on Thursday. This bill creates a rebuttable assumption that all goods produced or mined in Xinjiang, the autonomous region in northwest China, are done by force and thus banned from entering America. This will make it difficult, if not impossible, for large fashion brands whose production is heavily located in the region to supply their goods.
The US government has accused the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of imprisoning over one million Uyghurs since 2017. They also subjected other Muslim minority groups to religious restrictions, forced labor, forced sterilizations, intense surveillance, religious restrictions, and religious restrictions. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) reported these findings in March of 2020 based on testimony from former camp detainees, satellite imagery of factories being built in internment camps, and public and leaked Chinese government documents.
Rep. James P. McGovern (D.MA), co-chair of this Commission and a sponsor of the bill, stated the need for a blanket presumption that forced labor is necessary in a speech he gave on the House floor. The speech was posted to YouTube. “Many products, including clothes, food and shoes, used every day by people all across the country, were made using forced labor- the forced labour of Uyghurs, other Muslim minorities, held by the Chinese government through a network of internment camp. Since more than 90 years, it has been illegal to import US-made forced labor products. However, it is extremely difficult to identify them as Chinese producers frequently mix products from both voluntary and involuntary labor. Auditing product sourcing is difficult, if not impossible, due to the lack of transparency from the Chinese government and the police state environment in Xinjiang.”
The challenge of enforcement is still to be resolved once the law has been signed. Despite US sanctions being imposed on Xinjiang’s cotton suppliers, the Washington Post reported in November that prohibited cotton is still making its ways onto US shelves through third-country manufacturers of clothing and other products with cotton imported from China. Xinjiang is home to 85 percent of China’s cotton. Although the bill allows for public comment and a public hearing, it is clear that coordination with the private sector is crucial.
The CECC report cites many companies as having been accused of having tainted supply chain supply chains. H&.M, PVH Corporation and Adidas are just a few. Others have issued statements condemning forced labor and have cut ties to factories and suppliers in the area. According to the New York Times, some American companies like Nike lobbied against certain parts of the bill. However, their public statement refutes this. Companies that have taken a position in Xinjiang have been subject to significant backlash from China. This has led to a drop in sales and even store closures.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act passed with a successful vote. This comes as tensions rise with China. Australia, Canada, and the UK have joined the United States in a diplomatic boycott against the 2022 Beijing Olympics. As its official supplier of sportswear uniforms, the International Olympic Committee maintains its partnership with Anta, a Chinese company that has been admitted to using Xinjiang cotton.