US Firms Are Profiting From Uyghur Forced Labor: Expert

March 10, 2021 Updated: March 10, 2021

A parade of witnesses told the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on March 10 that it’s all but impossible for U.S. firms to buy goods or services from China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region that aren’t produced with forced labor.

That’s because Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities have imposed such a pervasive system of repressive political, economic, social, and religious policies on the mostly Muslim population in the region of northwest China.

“It is a practical impossibility for a U.S. corporation to source from the Uyghur region without using forced labor, which means that every corporation that has chosen to stay in the Uyghur region is complicit in the crime of forced labor,” Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), told the USCIRF during a March 10 hearing.

The WRC is an independent labor monitoring organization with investigators around the world.

“If a corporation is importing a good or service with content from the region into the United States from China or third countries, it is doing so in violation of U.S. laws prohibiting the importation of goods made with forced labor,” Nova told the hearing.

“Yet, despite the fact that the crimes against humanity in the Uyghur region have been visible to international observers for a period of years, a vast number of global corporations, particularly but not only in the apparel sector, continue to source goods from the region.”

The Uyghur region produces an estimated 20 percent of the world’s cotton production, according to witnesses during the hearing, as well as nearly half of the polysilicon used in solar panels. The region also produces vast quantities of tomatoes and tomato-based products, much of which are bought and imported into the United States by domestic firms.

“From Target to Walmart, from lululemon [stet] to Uniqlo, from Amazon to Zara, the supply chain of virtually every branded retailer that sells cotton garments runs through the Uyghur region,” Nova said.

As a result, Nova explained, millions of articles of clothing sourced in whole or in part from the Uyghur region of China are imported daily into the United States.

The forced labor problem is a major part of what USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer described as “communist China’s barbaric treatment of Uyghur Muslims that rightly should be called the stain of the century.”

“Its persecution of Uyghurs is just one more example from a long and egregious history of religious persecution of many other religious groups, including Protestant and Catholic Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and Tibetan Buddhists,” said Bauer, who was chief domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

“Quite frankly, I’d like to know how American corporations can morally justify investing in communist China at all. By doing so, they contribute to making more powerful a nation controlled by a repressive regime that has literally declared war on all people of faith.”

Another witness during the hearing told the USCIRF about receiving a growing number of inquiries from U.S. investment companies expressing concerns about investments in China.

“In the last roughly two months, we have had a remarkable, a notable slew of calls from investment firms, big ones, little ones, boutique firms, ones that work in sectors that I’ve literally never heard of before. They are asking nervously not just about Xinjiang but other sectors more broadly in China,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was scheduled to appear in person to testify but was unable to do so.

Rubio’s testimony was instead read by USCIRF Vice Chairman Tony Perkins. Perkins, who chaired the USCIRF under President Donald Trump, is president of the Family Research Council.

“The CCP forbids Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims from following traditional dietary restrictions, performing daily prayers, growing a beard, wearing a headscarf, going on Hajj, reading the Koran, and teaching the faith to their children. Using the Uyghur language is restricted and frequently smeared as an expression of terrorist sympathies,” Rubio said in his testimony.

“Since 2017, the CCP has detained more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang in political reeducation facilities. The documented atrocities against Uyghurs are sickening and evil: torture, forced labor, sexual violence, forced abortions, and forced sterilization.

“Let us be totally clear. There is no ability for companies to conduct business as usual in Xinjiang or where Chinese government programs have transported Uyghurs outside of the region. Put another way, proper due diligence of their supply chains is just not possible.

“CCP officials block it. As with so many issues, normal business practices do not prevail in China. The CCP refuses to play by the rules, and it ignores international norms.”

In a related development, Rubio wrote on Twitter late on March 9 about his concern over an apparent softening in the Biden administration’s attitude toward the Uyghur genocide.

The Florida Republican noted that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had during his Senate confirmation hearing expressed agreement with his predecessor’s determination that China was guilty of “committing genocide and crimes against humanity.”

But more recently, State Department spokeswoman Wendy Sherman described those policies in the past tense.

Rubio said, “I hope this isn’t an effort to step back from Secretary Blinken’s previous statements.”

Contact Mark Tapscott at