The Real Price of 'Made in China' | Opinion

The world is learning that when we do business with China, the cost of a good is more than what is on its price tag. The Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) flagrant human rights abuses, undermining of global efforts to reduce emissions, and geopolitical destabilization is quickly overtaking the benefit of their cheap goods.

Congress passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to finally address a portion of the human rights abuses and slave labor occurring in China. This is an important step to confront the CCP's genocide in Xinjiang. However, this is just a sliver of China's unacceptable behavior. Treating China as a good-faith partner in our global economy causes dangerous externalities, not just for its people, but for the rest of the world.

For instance, their refusal to enforce basic environmental standards is handicapping any international effort to lower emissions. No environmental strategy will be successful until the world holds China, the #1 greenhouse gas emitter, accountable.

China cannot be shamed into reducing their emissions. Disregarding international climate goals has become part of their business model to attract industry. Non-enforcement of basic environmental protections, combined with cheap labor fueled by dismal working conditions and modern-day slavery, is essential for them to keep their manufacturing costs down. In return, businesses have flocked to China—relying on an artificially cheap price of goods when you do not have to pay market value for labor or for the cost of environmental compliance.

Xi Jingping Speech
A new Chinese report slammed the United States' wealth inequality, despite China reportedly having one of the worst rates of inequality in the world. Here, Chinese President Xi Jinping can be seen giving a speech in June. Kevin Frayer/Getty

Allowing China to ignore basic international norms has a serious impact in the developing world as well. As we attempt to support the economies in Latin America and elsewhere, we rightfully demand basic human rights and labor standards. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) both include stringent worker protections. The CCP has gamed the system using slavery to turn these agreements into a de facto subsidy for China.

It is impossible for any nation that respects human rights to outcompete slave labor. It allows China to undercut potential business around the world and snuff out economic development in the crib. In addition, expensive power is the most significant problem for reinvestment of business in Central America. Especially when competing with China, which allows high emitting coal-fired power plants to churn out cheap electricity.

To promote stability in Latin America and stem the mass exodus flow of its citizens seeking opportunity, these countries must be able to attract business. As long as China receives the same access to markets and has the ability to undercut developing economies with slave labor and non enforced environmental standards, efforts to create greater opportunity in Latin America are at a severe disadvantage.

What do we do? We cannot continue to allow China to flaunt the law and face little to no consequences. Nor can we expect businesses to boycott China on their own if they will lose out to their competition, which does not. It is up to the international community to hold China accountable and dissolve the slave-based business model for good.

This is not hostility to China. It is recognition that such an important country must accept international norms or those norms become meaningless. To this end, the U.S. should join with other like-minded nations like the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and Canada, as well as nations in the European Union, Latin America and elsewhere to jointly prohibit the trade of goods plausibly made with slave labor.

We should develop a system whereby China's polluting of international air and water is reflected in access to markets. These actions are not to harm China; they are to address China's actions harming everyone else.

Bill Cassidy is the senior United States senator from Louisiana.

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