The U.S. Senate on Wednesday (July 14) passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bans imports of products from Xinjiang, China. This is the latest effort by Washington to punish Beijing. U.S. officials say the Chinese government continues to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uighurs and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang.
The bill would create a “rebuttable presumption” that, unless certified by U.S. authorities as free of forced labor, would presume that forced labor is used in any product manufactured in Xinjiang, and would therefore be prohibited under the 1930 Tariff Act (1930 Tariff Act). The Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits imports.
The bill, which passed the Senate without opposition from members of both parties, would shift the burden of proof to the importer to prove the absence of forced labor. Current U.S. regulations prohibit the importation of a product if there is reasonable evidence of forced labor.
The bill must also be passed by the House of Representatives and the two chambers must harmonize their versions before it can be sent to the White House and signed into law by President Biden. It is unclear when the House will pass the bill.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who co-sponsored the bill with Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, called on the House to act quickly.
In a statement, Rubio said, “We will not turn a blind eye to the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing crimes against humanity, and we will not allow companies a free pass to profit from these horrific abuses.”
In a statement, Merkley said, “No American company should make a profit from these abuses. No American consumer should inadvertently buy products that come from slave labor.”
Reuters reported that aides to Democratic and Republican senators expect the bill to receive strong support in the House, referring to the near-unanimous passage of a similar bill in the House last year.
Last September, the House passed the Forced Uighur Labor Prevention Act by an overwhelming majority of 406 to 3 in the last Congress, but the bill did not advance in the then-Senate until the Congress expired.
Bipartisan members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Forced Uighur Labor Prevention Act without dissent in April of this year. The House version of the bill was introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mich.) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.Y.).
In response to allegations of human rights abuses by the Chinese government, Washington has already taken a number of steps to secure the U.S. supply chain, including existing bans on tomatoes, cotton and certain solar products from Xinjiang, but this bill would go beyond those measures already taken.
The Biden administration has already stepped up sanctions and issued an alert Tuesday warning companies to beware that they may be in violation of U.S. law even if their operations are only tangentially linked to the Xinjiang surveillance network.
The Chinese government denies human rights abuses and forced labor in Xinjiang.