'Made in China?' Buyer Beware | Opinion

Shoppers beware: "Made in China" is not just a country-of-origin label. It is a warning that those cotton goods you are thinking of buying for family and friends during this season of giving may have been made by slave labor as part of a system that is monetizing the most egregious human rights violations in the modern world. The primary—but not only—victims of this state-sponsored modern slavery are religious and ethnic minorities who want nothing more than the freedom to practice their faith and traditional culture, but are facing horrendous, targeted violence from the atheist Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), you will find the myriad victims of the CCP's heinous policies. Up to three million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims and ethnic minorities have been detained in as many as 1,300 internment camps. They are being targeted because of their faith, ethnicity and culture, without trials or due process. In this new gulag archipelago, Uyghurs face extrajudicial killings, torture, forced ingestion of unidentified drugs, forced sterilization, rape and sexual abuse, forced abortions, forced labor, political indoctrination, and forced renunciation of their faith.

China reportedly has sent hundreds of thousands of children, whose parents are detained in these camps or forced to work full-time in factories in Xinjiang or across China, to be raised in CCP-run orphanages. These children face the prospect of growing up with their families' cultural traditions and religious values replaced with CCP ideology, effectively preventing future generations from maintaining their very ethnic and religious identity.

The captives in the CCP camps are forced to make clothing, towels, sheets, blankets, yarn, thread and other cotton products that find their way to the shelves of American stores. The captives are enslaved to produce the cotton and yarn used in jeans, T-shirts and socks, as well as the cottonseed oil used in food products and paper items. Outside the camps, Xinjiang has become a vast open-air prison wherein the CCP has dramatically expanded state security and installed a sophisticated surveillance networks. The Party's dictates are enforced through arbitrary disappearances, seizure of children, coerced intermarriage with Han Chinese and intrusive mandatory home inspections.

Now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency are again taking action to ensure American consumers are not supporting the CCP's supply chain of repression. DHS and CBP will announce a Withhold Release Order (WRO) on cotton products made by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a paramilitary organization also known as the Bingtuan, that is the backbone of the CCP's apparatus of control in Xinjiang.

CBP issued its WRO based on information that reasonably indicates the XPCC and its subordinate and affiliated entities use forced labor—including illegal prison labor—to produce cotton and cotton products. There are also credible reports that the XPCC has carried out mass transfers of Uyghurs and others from their homelands to factories across China, against their will. The WRO applies to all cotton produced by the XPCC and its subordinate and affiliated entities, as well as any finished products that are made with that cotton, such as clothing.

The WRO on XPCC cotton products is the latest in a series of actions taken by the U.S. government to address forced labor and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang. On July 1, 2020, DHS and three other agencies issued an advisory to warn businesses about the risks of forced labor in Xinjiang. Later that month, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Bingtuan and a number of Chinese government officials in connection with the mass arbitrary detention—and other serious human rights abuses—of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang. Also in July 2020, CBP seized 13 tons of human hair from Xinjiang. Not since the Holocaust have we witnessed hair shorn from concentration camp inmates on this scale, and we have never seen such a widespread and pernicious attempt to monetize these byproducts of depraved evil.

Xinjiang facility believed to be a "re-education"camp
Xinjiang facility believed to be a "re-education" camp GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

This holiday season, we call on America's consumers to understand that cheap Chinese goods are not worth the price.

We must not corrupt American consumers and markets with concentration camp souvenirs. We will not dishonor American workers and others struggling through a difficult job market by pitting them against slaves. And we will not tolerate American companies profiting from the same evil that our country vanquished 155 years ago.

Look for the warning label. That sweater or throw blanket may look like a bargain, but we must remember that someone halfway around the world has already paid a very steep price for it. Is it still "cheap" if you know it was made on the backs of slaves in CCP labor camps and factories?

American consumers are increasingly careful about eating local and organic, about caring for the environment and their pets. We must bring that same mindfulness to products made through the coercion of human beings on the other side of the world who have no choices, no rights and no legal avenue to change their circumstances.

A globalization-at-all-costs mentality has facilitated a terrible, tragic demand for cheap and outright slave labor. The choices Americans make every day about what to purchase, and where to purchase it from, directly affect the demand for more and more forced labor.

These are modern-day slaves—it is as simple as that. As Americans of good conscience, we must stand up and refuse to buy these goods. We should use our voices to review products online and request companies certify that their products are not made with Chinese forced labor. We should urge Congress to pursue policies that affirmatively protect Americans from participating in this activity. U.S. businesses should review their supply chains and eliminate forced labor inputs—or face the economic, social and even criminal consequences of failing to do so.

Our nation stands for the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. The Chinese government needs to immediately close its camps, set its captives free, stop its program of cultural annihilation and end its state-sponsored slavery program. Unless and until the CCP does so, we must continue to block these illicit goods and pursue those who profit from them.

Ken Cuccinelli serves as the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.