The US House of Representatives has reintroduced sweeping legislation on Thursday that would ban the import of goods sourced in China’s Xinjiang region, over concerns of widespread, state-backed forced labour.
The bill also allows for further sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for abuses against the Muslims minority Uyghur.
Lawmakers filed the updated version of the bill that passed the House 406-3 in the previous Congress in September and is similar to a Senate version that was reintroduced last month.
That legislation, which the House approved in a near-unanimous vote, was wiped from the docket after it failed to move through the Senate before the congressional session came to a close in January.
If enacted, the bill would prohibit US businesses from importing any goods produced wholly or in part in Xinjiang; unless there is “clear and convincing evidence” that forced labour was not involved in their production.
The House bill would authorize the U.S. president to apply sanctions against anyone responsible for labour trafficking of minority Uyghurs or other Muslims in Xinjiang, a leading producer of cotton and cotton products.
“We have watched in horror as the Chinese government first created, and then expanded a system of extrajudicial mass internment camps targeting Uyghurs and Muslim minorities,” said Democratic Representative Jim McGovern in reintroducing the bill.
The congressman charged that the Xinjiang economy was “built upon a foundation of forced labour and repression.”
The bill would also require financial disclosures by listed U.S. companies about engagement with Chinese firms and entities engaged in abuses, a provision not included in the Senate version.
“Many U.S., international, and Chinese corporations are complicit in the exploitation of forced labour and these products continue to make their way into global supply chains and our country. It is long past time for the Congress to act,” McGovern said.
A U.N. panel said in 2018 that it had received credible reports that at least 1 million Muslims had been detained in camps in Xinjiang. China denies abuses and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
While the legislation has had strong bipartisan support, congressional aides say it has been the target of lobbying by firms with supply-chain links to Xinjiang.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas called China’s government “a new evil empire”, and blasted some American corporations for resisting the bills.
“I think it’s disgraceful that some corporate leaders in America have spent the last year lobbying against sanctions on Chinese officials for using slave labour in Xinjiang province, and they don’t want to have accountability for their own supply chains in China,” Cotton said during an event on a new report he released on countering China.
“If I were a corporate leader in American, I would pack up and get out,” he said.
The Biden administration endorsed a Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang and has said the United States must be prepared to impose costs on those responsible.
Trump imposed sanctions on Chinese officials and firms linked to abuses in Xinjiang and also announced a ban on cotton and tomato products from the region. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)