The U.S. House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to approve bipartisan legislation aimed at banning imports from the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Congress and human rights groups have documented more than 1 million Muslim Uyghurs and other minority Muslim ethnic groups forced by the Chinese government to mine, manufacture and produce goods as part of a targeted campaign of repression.
The House voted 406-3 on September 22 to bar the import of all goods from the minerals-rich northwestern Chinese province unless “clear and convincing evidence” shows that any of the goods “were not produced wholly or in part by convict labor, forced labor, or indentured labor under penal sanctions.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal government body that advises the State Department about religious issues around the world, welcomed the bill’s passage.
“It’s unconscionable that American businesses could still be importing goods made with forced labor of a religious minority,” said USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer. “This bill would go a long way in keeping such goods out of American markets, but corporate executives also need to do their part by either verifying beyond a reasonable doubt that their supply chains in China are free of forced labor or moving their business elsewhere.”
The legislation, which is pending before the Senate, could significantly affect global trade if it becomes law, because it would force companies not to do business in a region that produces 80 percent of the cotton in China, and is one of the world’s leading producers of cotton fiber, tomatoes and manufactured goods, Associated Press reported.
“If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interest we lose all moral authority to speak about human rights anywhere in the world,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in support of the bill, titled the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
Since 2017, according to the bill, Congress has found that China has “arbitrarily detained as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and members of other Muslim minority groups in a system of extrajudicial mass internment camps, and has subjected detainees to forced labor, torture, political indoctrination, and other severe human rights abuses.”
The camps are a source of forced labor, adds the bill, referring to testimony of former camp detainees, satellite imagery and leaked documents of the Chinese government. The bill also refers to the U.S. Department of State 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, which notes that Chinese authorities “offer subsidies incentivizing Chinese companies to open factories in close proximity to the internment camps, and local governments receive additional funds for each inmate forced to work in these sites at a fraction of minimum wage or without any compensation.”
A U.S. Department of Labor report indicates “the government has begun transporting thousands of people arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang to other provinces for forced labor.”
On September 14, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued five new “Withhold Release Orders” (WROs) on a range of products suspected to be produced by prisoners or forced labor. The products included cotton, apparel, hair products, computer parts and all products made at a so-called Vocational Skills and Education and Training Center in Xinjiang. The list brought to eight the total number of WROs issued so far in fiscal 2020.
The new WROs were welcomed by Nury Turkel, an activist for the rights of Uyghurs who this past May became the minority group’s first member to be appointed as a commissioner to the USCIRF. “This is an important step to keep goods that are produced using forced labor out of American markets,” Turkel said. “Thanks to U.S. leadership, Chinese companies now know that they cannot profit off the slavery of Uyghur Muslims.”
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