By Doug Palmer
09/22/2020 03:57 PM EDT
The House on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of legislation aimed at ensuring that clothing and other products made with the forced labor of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region of China do not enter the United States.
“In recent years, the world has stood by idly as the Chinese Communist Party rounded up more than a million — probably a lot more than that — ethnic minorities into concentration camps where they are tortured, brainwashed and forced into labor,” Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during floor debate.
“This is all part of a deliberate program by the CCP to wipe out their ethic identity, their religion, their culture — anything that might compete with the Communist Party for their loyalties and affection,” McCaul added.
Implications: If also approved by Senate and signed into law by the president, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, H.R. 6210 (116), could disrupt tens of billions of dollars of U.S.-China trade by requiring companies to prove to U.S. Customs and Border Protection that any products sourced from Xinjiang are not made with forced labor.
That has potentially enormous consequences for many retailers and other importers because the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region accounts for roughly 85 percent of China’s cotton production. That cotton is used to make clothes in China and throughout much of Asia.
It’s also likely to further inflame relations with China, which have already been strained by Beijing’s initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak and its actions in Hong Kong and the South China Sea.
Floor debate: The State Department, in its latest annual report on human trafficking, accused China of “widespread forced labor,” including through the mass detention of more than one million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in northwestern China.
China rejects that accusation, as well as charges that it is trying to wipe out Uighur culture. But U.S. lawmakers have not been swayed by those arguments.
“Tragically, the products of the forced labor often end up here in American stores and homes,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “In fact, one in five cotton garments sold globally … contain cotton or yarn from the Xinjiang region.”
The 406-3 vote showed the breadth of support on both sides of the political aisle for the legislation, which many lawmakers described as a moral responsibility to stop funding slave labor in Xinjiang by purchasing goods from the region.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (R-Texas), who is vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he hoped U. S. leadership on the issue would persuade other countries to follow suit.
“The United States should use its unique position in the global trading system to advance workers rights and the freedom and dignity of all people,” he said.
Next steps: A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) He co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which released earlier this year its own report on the intersection between global supply chains and forced labor in the Uighur region. That panel is chaired by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the lead sponsor of the House bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet said whether the Senate will vote on the legislation. But supporters see a chance it could pass on a simple voice vote, if no senator raises an objection.