By Brandon Moseley

A bill in Congress could make the U.S. the first country to ban items made by alleged slave labor in China.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL07) was among a bipartisan group of lawmakers that voted to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

"The United States and our international partners must stand up against the brutal oppression and genocide of the Uyghur people being perpetrated by the Chinese government," said Rep. Sewell. "This bill takes an important step toward holding China accountable for its horrific human rights abuses and its exploitation of forced labor."

The bill passed unanimously in the House with the support of the entire Alabama Congressional delegation.

"As a leading voice on labor enforcement in Congress, I'm pleased that this bill builds on standards included in USMCA which strengthen the prohibition of goods made with forced labor," said Sewell. "This will ensure that Chinese goods blocked at the U.S. border will not find their way into third markets. Moreover, this bill utilizes the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force, which I helped to create as the Enforcement co-lead of the USMCA Working Group."

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act:

  • Creates a "rebuttable presumption" that any goods made in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are made with forced labor and prohibited from entering the United States unless "clear and convincing" evidence is shown to the contrary.

  • Authorizes the President to apply targeted visa and asset sanctions on any person responsible for the labor trafficking of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities and directs the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to address forced labor in the XUAR.

  • Requires disclosures by publicly traded companies in their quarterly and annual reports about any engagement with entities building or running detention facilities and developing or providing surveillance systems in the XUAR; or engagement with any persons subject to U.S. sanctions, or responsible for, or complicit in, committing atrocities in the XUAR.   

The bill now moves to the Senate where it is being sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida). Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is standing in the way of the legislation, using procedural motions to postpone a vote on the bill to crack down on the Chinese Communist Party's well-documented persecution of the Uyghurs.

Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia and are native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. The Uyghurs are recognized by the Chinese government as a regional minority and the titular people of Xinjiang.

The Uyghurs have traditionally inhabited a series of oases scattered across the Taklamakan Desert within the Tarim Basin. These oases have historically existed as independent states or were controlled by many civilizations including China, the Mongols, the Tibetans and various Turkic states.

The Uyghurs gradually became Islamized starting in the 10th century and most Uyghurs identified as Muslims by the 16th century.

Since 2014, the Chinese government has subjected Uyghurs living in Xinjiang to widespread abuses that include forced sterilization and forced labor. Estimates are that at least one million Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained in the Xinjiang internment camps since 2017 (Wikipedia). There are 12.8 million Uyghurs in China.

The Chinese government says that these internment camps were created under CCP general secretary Xi Jinping's administration to serve the goals of ensuring adherence to Chinese Communist Party ideology, preventing separatism, fighting terrorism, and providing vocational training to Uyghurs. The Chinese government meanwhile has been relocating many ethnic Han Chinese (the ethnic majority in China) to the region and there are even media reports that local Chinese government officials have pressured Uyghur families to give up their marriage-age daughters into marriages with Han Chinese.

Some critics of Xi's Uyghur policy have suggested that it is genocide.

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