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United States Passes Total Goods Ban on all Products from Xinjiang Province due to Forced Labor Allegations
On December 16, the US Senate unanimously passed a bill to effectively ban the import of goods from the Xinjiang region in China, a critical step after the House passed the same bill days earlier. President Biden is expected to sign the legislation in a move widely seen as an admonishment of the Chinese government for its exploitative labor practices against the Uyghurs, a regional ethnic group that resides in northwestern China.
The bill had faced immense pressure from businesses arguing that cutting off an industrious and resource-rich region such as the Xinjiang province would prove too costly, and would degrade teetering global supply chains even further. The Biden administration, however, has called China’s practices involving the forced relocation, encampment, and sterilization of the Uyghurs a cultural “genocide”, and politicians from both political parties were not swayed by corporate anxieties.
Xinjiang is a powerhouse for cotton production, agriculture, and the development of polysilicon, a critical component for smartphones, computers, and green energy technologies. Many companies, including Coca-Cola and Apple, are wary of the stringent terms of the bill, which defaults to the presumption that all goods coming from the Xinjiang province are made with forced labor, and therefore corporations wishing to import goods from the region must proactively prove otherwise.
The bill expands on an order from 2020 from the US Customs and Border Patrol that banned imports from select companies in Xinjiang due to forced labor concerns, which acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan called “an atrocious human rights abuse.”
China has denied all allegations, and says its measures are designed to protect its nation against insurgencies and terrorism. These charges that have received increased scrutiny after investigations from the New York Times, Buzzfeed News, and other news outlets shed light on the internment camps built by the Chinese government in the Xinjiang province, in addition to personal testimonies from former prisoners at the camps who described experiencing forced labor and witnessing torture, sexual abuses, and deaths at the hands of camp guards.
In response to the continued criticism of the treatment of Uyghurs, as well as the increasingly strict regulations on imports, western brands have started to experience significant backlash in China. Chinese consumers have targeted brands that have recently issued corporate statements against human rights abuses, including H&M, Burberry, and Nike. China’s state-owned publication, People’s Daily, created the hashtag #ISupportXJCotton to counter the allegations, which generated over 3 million likes on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.
Several companies in other countries have also boycotted products from Xinjiang, including two major brands in Australia (Target Australia and Cotton On). Additionally, recent public polling in the United Kingdom and Canada has signaled strong support for boycotting Chinese products over human rights abuses, though formal legislation remains to be seen.
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Contributor: Jennifer Nowicki
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