(Washington, DC) – New U.S. forced labor law should strengthen control over the supply chains of companies linked to forced labor in China, Human Rights Watch said today in a submission to the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force ( FLETF). The law is also expected to result in increased civil and criminal penalties for companies that import forced labor products.
the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Law (UFLPA), signed into law by President Joe Biden in December 2021, creates a presumption that goods manufactured in whole or in part in the northwest Xinjiang region of China, or produced by entities in China linked to forced labor, cannot be imported in the USA. Since 2017, China has detained up to one million Uighurs and other Turkish Muslims in Xinjiang and subjected them to various abuses that constitute crimes against humanity, including subjugating detainees and other Turkish Muslims forced labor inside and outside Xinjiang.
“The U.S. government has a powerful new tool to ensure corporations are not complicit in forced labor, but law enforcement is paramount,” said Jim Wormington, senior business and rights researcher humans at Human Rights Watch. “The government should require importers to disclose their supply chains to identify links to Xinjiang or other forced labor sites, and should hold companies accountable when they or their suppliers continue to exploit labor. strength.”
The multi-agency task force chaired by the Department of Homeland Security on January 24, 2022, entry requested in the strategy the US government should use to enforce the new forced labor law. The law builds on existing US law, the Tariff Act of 1930, which prohibited the importation of “all goods, commodities, articles and commodities extracted, produced or made in whole or in part” by forced labour. Since 2019, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has Posted about ten orders requiring the seizure of certain categories of products from Xinjiang, including one from January 2021 ordered covering all cotton and tomato products produced wholly or partly in Xinjiang.
The new law goes further by requiring customs officials to enforce a requirement, due to come into force on June 21, that requires all goods “extracted, produced or manufactured in whole or in part” in Xinjiang to be produced with forced labor and therefore prohibited. upon entering the United States. The presumption also applies to goods produced by entities — whether in Xinjiang or elsewhere in China — that the US government lists as linked to forced labor.
The new law says companies can rebut the presumption against imports by providing “clear and convincing evidence” that the goods are not related to forced labour. However, the extent of Chinese government surveillance and threats against workers and auditors in Xinjiang currently prevents companies from providing credible evidence that they or their suppliers in the region are free from forced labor. Even elsewhere in China, the arrests of union activiststhe banning of independent unions, government surveillance and anti-sanctions laws constitute serious obstacles to the identification and resolution of the risk of forced labor and other human rights violations.
In its submission to the working group, Human Rights Watch pointed out that the most effective way to identify Xinjiang-related products would be to require all brands and retailers importing into the United States to map their supply chains. global, from raw materials to manufacturers, and disclose them in a time-limited manner. The task force should consider whether it is possible to impose this requirement using existing executive powers and, if not, should recommend new legislation requiring mandatory chain of custody mapping and disclosure. procurement and comprehensive human rights due diligence.
Customs and Border Protection’s own efforts to identify products from Xinjiang or entities linked to forced labor should focus on high-risk sectors, including priority sectors (cotton, tomatoes and polysilicon) identified in the new law itself. Customs officers should identify importers in high-priority sectors that present the highest risk of forced labor connections and should request information from these companies about their supply chains and their efforts to identify and address forced labor. If targeted importers do not answer questions or provide inadequate information, Customs and Border Protection should consider this as evidence that the products contain material from Xinjiang or forced labor-related entities and are prohibited from import. under the new law.
To demonstrate that it is effectively enforcing bans on the import of forced labor, Customs and Border Protection must be transparent about its enforcement actions. It must indicate when it detains, re-exports, excludes or seizes goods, including information on the company importing the prohibited goods; the nature of the goods; their approximate value; and the reason for the enforcement action. The U.S. government should also impose financial penalties on companies that import or attempt to import goods related to forced labor and use laws such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to criminally prosecute individuals and companies for their role in forced labor imports.
“American importers should no longer be able to plead ignorance of their ties to forced labor in China and the Xinjiang region in particular,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Companies with operations, suppliers or contractors in Xinjiang should quickly leave the region or risk having their goods seized at the US border and their businesses subject to civil and criminal penalties.”