The US Department of Homeland Security announced on Wednesday that US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel at all US ports of entry will ban shipments containing cotton and cotton products originating from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).
CBP’s Office of Trade directed the issuance of a Withhold Release Order (WRO) against cotton products made by the XPCC based on information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labour, including convict labour.
The targeting of XPCC, which produced 30% of China’s cotton in 2015, follows a Treasury Department ban in July on all dollar transactions with the sprawling business-and-paramilitary entity, founded in 1954 to settle China’s far west.
The move, which could have a sweeping effect on companies involved in selling textiles and apparel to the United States, is among several the Trump administration has been working on in its final weeks to harden the US position against China, making it more difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to ease US-China tensions.
The WRO on XPCC cotton products is the sixth enforcement action that CBP has announced in the past three months against goods made by forced labour from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli, who oversees the border agency, called “Made in China” a “warning label.”
“The cheap cotton goods you may be buying for family and friends during this season of giving – if coming from China – may have been made by slave labour in some of the most egregious human rights violations existing today in the modern world,” he told a news conference.
“The human rights abuses taking place at the hands of the Chinese Communist government will not be tolerated by President Trump and the American people,” Mr. Cuccinelli said in a statement.
Mr. Cuccinelli said a region-wide Xinjiang cotton import ban was still being studied.
The United Nations cites what it says are credible reports that 1 million Muslims held in camps have been put to work. China denies mistreating Uighurs and says the camps are vocational training centres needed to fight extremism.
While the Treasury sanctions target XPCC’s financial structure, Wednesday’s action will force apparel firms and other companies shipping cotton products into the United States to eliminate XPCC-produced cotton fibre from many stages of their supply chains, said Brenda Smith, CBP’s executive assistant commissioner for trade.
“That pretty much blocks all Chinese cotton textile imports,” said a China-based cotton trader, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Identifying cotton from a specific supplier will sharply raise manufacturing costs, and only the few large companies with fully integrated operations across the complex textile supply chain could guarantee that no XPCC product has been used, the trader said.
“It really depends on how much proof they want. If they want real proof that this cotton has not been used, that’s going to be extremely difficult,” he added.
Major clothing brands including Gap Inc, Patagonia Inc and Zara owner Inditex have told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that did not source from factories in Xinjiang – but that they could not confirm that their supply chains were free of cotton picked from the region.
Joe Biden has pledged to work with US allies to bring pressure on China to curb human rights and trade abuses. Mr. Trump in recent weeks has increased action against major Chinese state companies, banning access to US technology and investments. (Source: Independent UK)