US Officials Push New Efforts to Address Beijing’s Suppression of Xinjiang Uyghurs

March 13, 2020 Updated: March 13, 2020
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U.S. officials recently introduced legislation to address China’s human rights violations in the Xinjiang region.

On March 12, U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) proposed a new bill, called the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act, which would require U.S.-traded companies that do business in Xinjiang to review and disclose information about their supply chains—particularly whether their products are made by forced labor or sourced from internment camps.

More than a million ethnic Muslim minorities, including Uyghurs, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz people, are being detained in roughly 1,200 internment camps in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, according to the 2019 Trafficking In Persons report by the U.S. State Department. Beijing claims these camps are “vocational training centers.”

“I’ve met with members of the Uyghur community in my district who have told me heart-wrenching stories of family and friends in Xinjiang who have been brutally detained, pushed out of their homes, and pressed into forced labor,” Wexton said in a press release from her office.

Wexton’s proposed legislation came days after a new study released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) revealed that at least 83 well-known global brands were connected to factories where persecuted Uyghurs are working under conditions that “strongly suggest forced labor.”

Citing open-source Chinese-language documents, satellite imagery analysis, academic research, and media reports, the report estimated that more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to these factories between 2017 and 2019 in a state-sponsored program.

Among the 83 brands named in the report were Adidas, Apple, Gap, Huawei, Nike, and Samsung.

Nike has since issued a statement, saying that Xinjiang employees at Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co., where some Nike shoes are manufactured, have “the ability to end their contracts at any time without repercussion.” It added that the company has been “conducting ongoing diligence with our suppliers in China.”

The proposed bill would be an amendment to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. If passed, it would require the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue rules to listed companies, demanding that they disclose information such as the nature and the extent to which forced labor is related to their products, as well as gross revenue and net profits in association with such goods. The SEC would then disclose the information on its website.

“American companies should not be complicit in China’s abuse of its Muslim minorities. This legislation will help shine a light on these inhumane practices and provide needed transparency for investors,” Wexton said.

She added: “Once consumers see that the products we use every day—from the shoes we wear to the phones we text on—have been tainted by forced labor, I believe American companies will do the right thing and rethink their supply chains.”

On March 11, a bipartisan group of 17 senators wrote a joint letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing concerns that China was using international standards-setting bodies, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), to gain “international legitimacy” for its surveillance technologies.

The Chinese regime has developed artificial-intelligence security cameras and apps that are used to monitor Xinjiang residents, as well as dissidents and the general populace.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer