WASHINGTON — Human rights activists, labor leaders and others urged the Biden administration on Friday to put its weight behind a coming ban on products made with forced labor in the Xinjiang region of China, saying slavery and coercion taint company supply chains that run through the region and China more broadly.
The law, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, was signed by President Biden in December and is set to go into effect in June. It bans all goods made in Xinjiang or with ties to certain entities or programs that are under sanctions and transfer minority workers to job sites, unless the importer can demonstrate to the U.S. government that its supply chains are free of forced labor.
It remains to be seen how stringently the law is applied, and if it ends up affecting a handful of companies or far more. A broad interpretation of the law could cast scrutiny on many products that the United States imports from China, which is home to more than a quarter of the world’s manufacturing. That could lead to more detentions of goods at the U.S. border, most likely delaying product deliveries and further fueling inflation.
The law requires that a task force of Biden administration officials produce several lists of entities and products of concern in the coming months. It is unclear how many organizations the government will name, but trade experts said many businesses that relied on Chinese factories might realize that at least some part or raw material in their supply chains could be traced to Xinjiang.
“I believe there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of companies that fit the categories” of the law, John M. Foote, a partner in the international trade practice at Kelley Drye & Warren, said in an interview.
The State Department estimates that the Chinese government has detained more than one million people in Xinjiang in the last five years — Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Hui and other groups — under the guise of combating terrorism.
China denounces these claims as “the lie of the century.” But human rights groups, former detainees, participating companies and the Chinese government itself provide ample documentation showing that some minorities are forced or coerced into working in fields, factories and mines, in an attempt to subdue the population and bring about economic growth that the Chinese government sees as key to stability.
Rushan Abbas, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for Uyghurs, who has written about the detention of her sister in Xinjiang, said at a virtual hearing convened by the task force on Friday that forced labor had become a “profitable venture” for the Chinese Communist Party, and was meant to reduce the overall population in Xinjiang’s villages and towns.
“The pervasiveness of the issue cannot be understated,” she said, adding that forced labor was made possible by “the complicity of industry.”
Gulzira Auelkhan, an ethnic Kazakh who fled Xinjiang for Texas, said in the hearing that she had been imprisoned for 11 months in Xinjiang alongside ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs who were subject to torture and forced sterilization. She also spent two and a half months working in a textile factory making school uniforms for …….