US lawmakers on Wednesday proposed a ban on most imports from China’s Xinjiang region, charging that goods produced by Uighur forced labourers were easily making their way into the United States.
A bipartisan group of politicians, including Democratic Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, announced the bill Wednesday morning.
The United States already bans products made through slavery. but with China holding more than one million Uighurs and other Muslims in camps in Xinjiang, lawmakers said that forced labour was interwoven into the region’s economy.
“These practices in Xinjiang are one of the world’s largest human tragedies. It remains unimaginable, frankly, that this is happening in 2020,” Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican sponsor of the bipartisan measure, told reporters.
“We know that many US, international and Chinese companies are complicit in the exploitation of forced labour involving Uighurs and other Muslim minorities,” McGovern said.
“Audits of supply chains are simply not possible because forced labour is so pervasive within the regional economy,” he said.
Leaked documents published by CNN in February revealed Uyghur citizens could be detained for trivial reasons such as growing a beard or having too many children.
A new report by the US government’s Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) obtained by CNN claims there is now evidence of “egregious human rights abuses” of detainees being used as forced labor in manufacturing and textiles factories across Xinjiang.
According to the CECC, goods from international brands such as Nike, H&M, Esprit, Adidas and Calvin Klein may have been partially sourced from the region’s forced labor facilities.
In a statement Tuesday, Nike said that it didn’t directly source products from Xinjiang, but was investigating its supply lines to ensure no forced labor was involved.
The new bill seeks to require that evidence be provided by businesses for each item to show that it had an untainted chain of production.
The bill also calls for US President Donald Trump to identify Chinese officials or businessmen who “knowingly engage” in forced labor in order to impose targeted US sanctions on individuals.
Sponsors of the new bill claim it is necessary due to the opaque nature of Chinese supply chains.
Since 2015, the Chinese government has been putting Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups into what former detainees have called re-education centers.
Inside the camps, the detainees are forcibly taught Chinese language skills and Communist Party propaganda. Some former inmates have described jail-like conditions in the heavily-fortified centers. The Chinese government has repeatedly pushed back at accusations of forced detention, referring to the centers as part of a system of voluntary “vocational training,” designed to combat Islamic extremism.
Speaking at his daily news conference Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that Xinjiang’s affairs were “purely China’s internal affairs.”