Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the US is rallying its allies against forced labor as it begins implementing an import ban on goods from China’s Xinjiang region, where Washington says Beijing is committing genocide.
- Xinjiang is a major cotton producer that also supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels
- US says importers will need to prove that their products are not made with forced labor
- Rights groups and trade associations warn that Xinjiang products could be imported via other countries
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has begun enforcing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in December.
CBP has said it is ready to implement the law’s “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang, where Chinese authorities established detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, are made with forced labor and barred from import unless it can be proven otherwise.
The agency has said a very high level of evidence would be required for importers to receive an exception to the law.
“We are rallying our allies and partners to make global supply chains free from the use of forced labour, to speak out against atrocities in Xinjiang, and to join us in calling on the government of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to immediately end atrocities and human rights abuses,” Mr Blinken said in a statement.
“Together with our inter-agency partners, we will continue to engage companies to remind them of US legal obligations.”
An Australian Senate committee last year called for the Customs Act to be amended “to prohibit the import of any goods made wholly or in part with forced labour”.
The ABC has contacted the federal government to ask whether Australia plans to support the US move and take its own action.
China denies abuses in Xinjiang, a major cotton producer that also supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said earlier in Beijing that claims of forced labor in Xinjiang were a “big lie concocted by anti-China forces”.
“With this so-called law, the United States is trying to create forced unemployment in Xinjiang and to push for the world to decouple with China,” Mr Wang said.
Beijing initially denied the existence of any detention camps, but then later admitted it had set up “vocational training centers” necessary to curb what it said was terrorism, separatism and religious radicalism in Xinjiang.
Last week, CBP issued a list of Xinjiang entities presumed to be using forced labour, which includes textiles, solar-grade poly silicon, and electronics companies.
It has said threatened to ban imports from other countries if related supply chains include products or materials from Xinjiang.
The US, Britain and other countries have called for the United Nations’ International Labor Organization to set up a mission to probe alleged labor abuses in Xinjiang.
Disruption to business
Human rights groups and trade associations that support US domestic producers have warned that goods from Xinjiang could find their way into solar imports from other countries, given the difficulty of verifying supply chains in China.
Earlier in June, Mr Biden waived tariffs on solar panels from four South-East Asian nations, leading to accusations his administration was not serious about cracking down on forced labour.
CBP could need two years to ramp up enforcement, the breadth of the task making it potentially more difficult than the post-9/11 effort to track terror financing, said Alan Bersin, a former CBP commissioner who is now executive chairman of supply chain technology company Altana AI.
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