Democrats and Republicans Team Up to Punish China Over Xinjiang Forced Labor Products

On Wednesday the Senate voted to ban all products entering to the U.S. from Xinjiang, with the legislation making it incumbent upon companies to prove their imports are free from the exploitation of Uyghurs and other minority groups in northwestern China.

The bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which passed by unanimous consent, was introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The bill will be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration before it has to receive presidential sign-off by Joe Biden.

In a statement following Wednesday's vote, Rubio and Merkley praised the Senate's decision, which would add to an existing ban on cotton and tomatoes produced in the Chinese autonomous region.

Last month, the Biden administration issued a ban on solar panel materials from a Chinese firm and its subsidiaries accused of using forced labor in Xinjiang. On July 9, a further 14 Chinese companies were blacklisted.

"The message to Beijing and any international company that profits from forced labor in Xinjiang is clear: no more," Rubio said in the statement. "We will not turn a blind eye to the [Chinese Communist Party's] ongoing crimes against humanity, and we will not allow corporations a free pass to profit from those horrific abuses."

He called on members of the House to act "promptly."

Merkley said: "Today the Senate is sending a clear message that the United States will not be complicit in the Chinese government's genocide of Uyghur Muslims. Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang are being forced into labor, tortured, imprisoned, forcibly sterilized, and pressured to abandon their religious and cultural practices by the Chinese government."

American firms should profit from the abuses, and no consumer should be "inadvertently purchasing products from slave labor," Merkley added.

The act includes a "rebuttable presumption" that all goods manufactured in Xinjiang are the result of forced labor. It falls on U.S. importers to provide proof to the contrary, including evidence that products were obtained following relevant labor guidelines. Failing that, all goods from Xinjiang will be restricted from entry to the U.S. under the Tariff Act of 1930, according to the text.

Rights groups and reports have linked forced labor in Xinjiang to suppliers of major American corporations including Amazon, Nike and Apple. The New York Times reported Nike and Coca-Cola as having lobbied against legislation such as the one passed on Wednesday.

In January, the outgoing Trump administration designated China's policies in Xinjiang "genocide and crimes against humanity," making the U.S. the first to do so, while several Western governments have since followed. The Biden administration has reaffirmed the position that human rights abuses continue to be committed in the region.

In the meantime, the Chinese government's denials about any wrongdoing in Xinjiang have been consistent. Human rights organizations say at least one million Uyghurs and members of other mainly Muslim minority groups have been interned in camps, which Beijing calls "vocational education and training centers" for the purposes of combating extremism.

In a government white paper about Xinjiang on Wednesday, China said the people of Xinjiang were now living in an "optimal period of development" thanks to the Communist Party and the leadership of its leader, Xi Jinping.

U.S. Capitol Building Prepares For Senate Vote
File photo: The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images