U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee passes bill to ban forced labor products in Xinjiang

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill Thursday (June 24) aimed at ensuring that products produced by forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region do not enter the U.S. market. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed their desire to pass the bill as soon as possible to prevent “American businesses and consumers from becoming complicit in human rights abuses. The bill will then be sent to the Senate for a vote.

The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), a cross-party coalition, by voice vote Thursday afternoon. Labor Prevention Act (LPA).

The bill received high levels of bipartisan support in the Senate. In addition to the sponsor, 51 members have cosponsored the bill.

The goals of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act are to take steps to prohibit the flow of any goods produced by forced labor into the United States and to lead the international community in ending forced labor practices around the world.

The bill also advocates intervening with China about human rights abuses in the XUAR through a variety of channels, including bilateral diplomatic channels and multilateral mechanisms, and using all available U.S. government measures to apply pressure, including visa and financial sanctions and controls on import and export trade with China.

“The Communist Party of China is turning Xinjiang into a large labor camp,” Rubio said in remarks at Thursday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup, adding that the view from satellite images shows more than 100 mass detention facilities in the Xinjiang region and that researchers have identified about 1,500 in or near these facilities and have learned that these companies are continuing to export their products around the world.

“It’s slavery, it’s that simple. U.S. companies say their supply chain is clean, so now this bill is saying ‘prove it,’ especially for products imported from Xinjiang,” Rubio said. If you want to export from that region to the United States, you have to prove that those goods are not produced by forced labor, or it’s going to be assumed that it’s (produced by) forced labor.”

The core position of the bill contains a “rebuttal presumption,” that is, the presumption is accepted as true unless proven otherwise, and the presumption presupposes that all products manufactured in Xinjiang are produced using forced labor and are therefore prohibited under the Tariff Act of 1930. Tariff Law is prohibited. Any company seeking to import products made in Xinjiang would have to demonstrate through a “clear and convincing” examination that its supply chain does not include forced labor.

The bill would apply to apparel and electronics sold by U.S. brand-name companies, which would have to be licensed by the U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement Agency to enter the U.S. market.

Senator Mockery, who co-sponsored the bill, and Senator Rubio are co-chairs of the current Congressional and Executive Committee on China (CECC). At the meeting, Senator Mockery denounced the Chinese government’s systematic and widespread human rights abuses against Uighurs and other minority Muslims in Xinjiang.

“This labor abuse involves a range of industries and products that contaminate the supply chain,” Mockery said, “and if American businesses and consumers buy products from that region [Xinjiang], it will make us complicit in this horrific human rights violation. So this bill is absolutely essential to preserve our values.”

Meanwhile, the Biden administration said Thursday it will ban key materials produced by China’s Xinjiang Hersheng Silicon Corporation and its subsidiaries for use in solar panels from entering the U.S. market and continue to support the development of a clean energy supply chain within the United States.

This is part of a broader effort by Washington to begin addressing ongoing human rights abuses and forced labor in Xinjiang, and to combat what the U.S. says are unfair economic practices in China and promote the development of a clean energy industry in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Commerce on June 23 added five Chinese entities accused of human rights violations to its list of export control entities, including Hershey Silicon, several major manufacturers of monocrystalline and polysilicon for solar panels, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.

The House version of the draft Forced Uyghur Labor Prevention Act was introduced by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). The bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in late April and is currently awaiting a vote by the full House.

The House and Senate will have to reconcile the differences between their versions of the same bill before it can be sent to the White House for signature by the President.

Last September, the House passed the Forced Uighur Labor Prevention Act by an overwhelming majority of 406 to 3, but the bill did not advance in the Senate until Congress expired.

The day before President Trump left office, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly called China’s persecution of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang a “genocide and a crime against humanity. Secretary of State John Blinken of the Biden administration has repeatedly echoed Pompeo’s statements.