A new U.S. law that would prevent imports linked to forced labor by Uyghurs and other persecuted groups in China took effect on Tuesday.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which President Joe Biden signed into law on Dec. 23, 2021, aims to penalize the Chinese government over its alleged oppression of the Uyghur people. It grants U.S. authorities increased powers to block the import of goods from the Xinjiang region.
Ahead of the law’s implementation, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency issued a notice to importers on June 13, 2022, telling them that they are expected to map their supply chains, including the source of their raw materials. This would help identify whether the products are made in part or wholly in Xinjiang or from companies with connections to forced labor.
Even importers that source their supply outside of China are still being asked to check their full supply chains due to the risk that those goods could still have originated from forced labor in China before being transferred elsewhere.
In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted the significance of the new law in combating forced labor in Xinjiang.
“We have taken concrete measures to promote accountability in Xinjiang, including visa restrictions, financial sanctions under Global Magnitsky, export controls, Withhold Release Orders and import restrictions, as well as the release of a multi-agency business advisory on Xinjiang to help U.S. companies avoid commerce that facilitates or benefits from human rights abuses, including forced labor,” the statement read. “Together with our interagency partners, we will continue to engage companies to remind them of U.S. legal obligations which prohibit importing goods to the United States that are made with forced labor.”
International nonprofit Human Rights Watch also released a statement urging the U.S. government to “vigorously enforce” the UFLPA.
“The new US law means it’s no longer business as usual for companies profiting from forced labor in China, and Xinjiang especially,” Jim Wormington, senior researcher and advocate for corporate accountability at Human Rights Watch, said. “Companies should swiftly identify any supply chain links to Xinjiang and exit the region or risk violating US law and seeing their goods detained at the US border.”
Wormington also highlighted how important it is for U.S. Customs to “send a message to businesses, China, and the American public that the US government will not ignore forced labor and crimes against humanity against the Uyghur people.”
China has condemned the new law, with Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin claiming that the issue of “forced labor in Xinjiang” is a lie created by those who want to discredit the Chinese government.
According to Wang, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and the U.S. sanctions “represent an escalation of the U.S. suppression of China under the guise of human rights and prove that the United States wantonly undermines the global economic and trade rules, as well as the stability of the international industrial chain and supply chain.”
Wang added that China is set to “act forcefully to uphold the lawful rights and interests of Chinese companies and nationals.”
Recent research found cotton sourced from Xinjiangin T-shirts from some of Germany’s biggest apparel companies, including Adidas, Puma and Hugo Boss.