By Yi-Hua Lee
The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill aimed at banning goods made with forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region, a move seen as increasing pressure on China over its Xinjiang policies.
Passed in a 406-3 vote, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act designates all goods produced, wholly or in part, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as being produced with forced labor unless U.S. Customs and Border Protection “can determine otherwise by clear and convincing evidence.”
“As many as 1.8 million Uighurs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups have been arbitrarily detained in the camps and subjected to forced labor, torture, political intimidation, and other severe human rights abuses,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, who helped spearhead the bipartisan bill on the floor before the vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said by passing the bill, the U.S. is sending a clear message to Beijing that “these abuses must end now.”
The bill still needs to be passed by the Senate and signed by the president before it would go into effect.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said that he hopes the Senate will advance the bill in a quick manner.
“I’m glad to hear the houses moving. I hope that we will move forward here. We’re consulting with the other senators; we’d like to see that go forward,” he told VOA Mandarin.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection banned some imports of cotton, apparel, hair products, computer parts and other goods from Xinjiang, citing concerns over forced labor.
The bill, if passed into law, would put more responsibility on companies to proactively prove that their products are not made with forced labor in Xinjiang.
A recent study by the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies said more than 20% of the world’s cotton is produced in the Xinjiang region. The bill would likely disrupt U.S. supply chains and send shock waves through the apparel industry.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a statement criticizing the bill, saying it would prohibit legitimate trade rather than prevent the import of products made by forced labor.
“Past attempts to utilize domestic U.S. securities law to combat human rights abuses provide a cautionary tale,” the lobby group said in a statement, claiming the absence of a qualified inspection and audit systems made it nearly impossible for companies to ensure accurate disclosures.
Beijing has denied the use of forced labor in Xinjiang. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbing said in a briefing on Monday that the country has “taken a resolute stance against forced labor and eradicated it in any form.”
China issued a Xinjiang white paper last week, claiming the regional government has provided “employment-oriented training and labor skills” for nearly 1.3 million workers each year since 2014, a statistic that observers believe may indirectly confirm the scale of the forced labor camps.
This story originated in VOA’s Mandarin Service.