Congress Urges Customs to Block Import of Chinese Slave Labor Goods from Xinjiang

Uigur women weave carpets in the Hetian Carpet Factory on September 4, 2007 in Hetian of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. Hetian, nicknamed in China as "Carpet Country," has a 3,000 year history of carpet weaving. Xinjiang has been noted in ancient times along the old silk road as a …
China Photos/Getty Images

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), a bipartisan coalition of congressmen and senators, sent a letter to the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Tuesday, urging the agency to block imports from Xinjiang, China.

Xinjiang is China’s westernmost province and the home of its ethnic Uyghur minority, known officially as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). In the past two years, China has built more than a thousand concentration camps in Xinjiang to house Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz Muslims and force them to abandon their religion, worship the Communist Party, and engage in slave labor. Survivors say they have seen the use of rape, forced sterilization, electroshock torture, and murder to subdue concentration camp populations. Multiple reports suggest China is using the camp’s victims to harvest their organs and sell them on the black market.

As many as three million people are believed to be imprisoned in the camps.

The CECC held a hearing last month showcasing several experts who said it was impossible to guarantee that any goods imported from Xinjiang were not made by slave labor.

China has designated Xinjiang’s concentration camps the “future of ‘Made in China'” in official state propaganda.

“We are writing to express our concern that imports made with forced labor from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have entered the United States,” CECC chairman Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), co-chair Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and the signatories to the letter wrote to CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan, adding:

We ask that you take all necessary action to ensure that the United States and American consumers are not complicit in the mass surveillance and internment of over one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups in the XUAR, actions which may constitute “crimes against humanity.”

The letter specifically requests that CBP “investigate and block imports made with forced labor in the XUAR from entering the U.S. market and, where appropriate, pursue criminal investigations related to the use of forced labor to produce goods being imported into the United States.”

It goes on to request that CBP issue the commission a report “that includes all the products made, wholly or in part, with forced labor from the XUAR and a list of Chinese companies engaged in the introduction of such goods to global supply chains.” The report would help Americans avoid any products known to come from the region so that they do not unknowingly patronize slave labor.

The letter also notes that China is not only using slave labor to profit, but to control and ultimately destroy Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang:

There is a substantial risk that apparel made in the XUAR, or with XUAR manufactured components, is made with forced labor. The risk of forced labor is so great that it is difficult, if not impossible, for companies to conduct appropriate due diligence of their supply chains in the region.

Forced labor is part of a larger Chinese government policy of social control in the XUAR. The Chinese government offers subsidies to companies that operate factories in the XUAR and they employ current and former detainees of the internment camps who work in food, textile, and other manufacturing jobs, including electronics. There are also reports that forced or involuntary labor is required of individuals who have not been detained. When parents are detained or engaged in forced labor, authorities often remove their children from their families in a campaign to systematically detach them from their ethnic, language, and religious roots.

In addition to Rep. McGovern and Sen. Rubio, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT) and Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), and Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) signed the letter.

Several Chinese government experts testified to the congressional commission in October that there was solid evidence of the appearance of goods made using slave labor appearing in American stores, notably baby clothing sold at Costco manufactured by a Chinese company called Hetian Taida. The CBP recently banned Hetian Taida from importing goods into America.

“It extremely disturbing that U.S. companies were still sourcing from the company,” Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American attorney, said of Hetian Taida at the hearing. “Two weeks ago, baby clothes produced by Hetian Taida were on the shelves at Costco. … It’s hard to understand how the goods got on the shelves in the first place.”

Adrian Zenz, a non-resident senior fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, noted to the commission that clothing from China is a particularly risky purchase because China produces about 25 percent of the world’s cotton, most of which is grown in Xinjiang.

China is “turning its internment campaign into a business of oppression … they will be able to undercut global prices and turn ‘Made in Xinjiang’ into a multi-billion-dollar business model,” Zenz said.

A week later, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency published a story promoting Xinjiang as “the future of ‘Made in China'”:

The autonomous region, where GDP growth was once one of the slowest in China, is now on the fast track. Most notably, Xinjiang is expected to become a more important part of the “Made in China” value chain, which will allow it to benefit more from the preferential policies of the central government.

The West and some anti-China forces often smear China’s Xinjiang policy, but facts speak louder than words. Xinjiang’s unique location and preferential policies have attracted a large number of enterprises. That trend has helped a lot in facilitating the transformation and upgrading of local manufacturing industries.

In 2018, profits made by Xinjiang’s large industrial enterprises grew 10 percent year-on-year, while the added value of strategic emerging industries rose by  13.2 percent and high-tech manufacturing soared by 33 percent, according to the government work report for Xinjiang.

The Senate is currently working on a bill to sanction China for gross human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2018 passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May; Rep. Christopher Smith introduced the House version in January.

Reports of Uyghur concentration camps began to surface in mid-2018. By the end of the year, survivors who escaped began noting the construction of on-site factories in the camps, where prisoners worked for no pay. That month, the Associated Press identified one American company, Badger Sportwear, which had imported slave labor products into the United States. The company claimed to have no knowledge of the atrocities committed to manufacture the products and stopped importing them.

“If this company has stopped trade exchanges with China based on some wrong information, I think it is pathetic,” then-Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in response to Badger Sportwear’s move. “Xinjiang’s vocational skills and education training is totally different from the ‘forced labor’ alleged by some parties.”

China calls the Xinjiang concentration camps “vocational training centers” and claims they are used to keep individuals prone to joining terrorist groups in the workforce.

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