Congress seeks to block goods from China

‘ 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 Mea­sures aimed at press­ing China over forced la­bor of de­tained mi­nori­ties

Arab Times - - BUSINESS PLUS -

WASHINGTON, Sept 24, (AP): A bi­par­ti­san bill aimed at keep­ing goods out of the US that are made with the forced la­bor of de­tained eth­nic mi­nori­ties in China passed over­whelm­ingly Tues­day in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­spite con­cerns about the po­ten­tial ef­fects on global com­merce.

The House voted 406-3 to de­clare that any goods pro­duced in the vast Xin­jiang re­gion of north­west­ern China are pre­sump­tively made with the forced la­bor of de­tained Uighurs and other eth­nic mi­nori­ties, and there­fore banned from be­ing im­ported to the US

If en­acted into law, it could have sig­nif­i­cant rip­ple ef­fects in global trade by forc­ing com­pa­nies to avoid a re­gion that prod­ucts 80% of the cot­ton in China, one of the world’s top pro­duc­ers of the fiber, as well as toma­toes and man­u­fac­tured goods.

Mem­bers of Congress say the mea­sure is needed to press China to stop a cam­paign that has re­sulted in the de­ten­tion of more than 1 mil­lion Uighurs and other pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim eth­nic groups un­der bru­tal con­di­tions.

“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,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in de­fend­ing the bill on the House floor.

The bill was au­thored by Rep Jim McGovern, a Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat,

and had dozens of co-spon­sors from both par­ties. It now goes to the Se­nate for con­sid­er­a­tion.

House mem­bers also called for pas­sage of a com­pan­ion bill that would re­quire all pub­licly-traded com­pa­nies in the US to dis­close whether any of their goods or any part of their sup­ply chain can be traced to in­tern­ment camps or fac­to­ries sus­pected of us­ing the forced la­bor of eth­nic mi­nori­ties in China.

That bill was au­thored by Rep Jen­nifer Wex­ton, a Demo­crat from north­ern Vir­ginia whose district is home to one

of the largest Uighur com­mu­ni­ties in the US A vote on that mea­sure was put on hold, per­haps un­til next week.

The US Cham­ber of Com­merce op­poses both bills, ar­gu­ing in an let­ter to House mem­bers that the mea­sures would cause com­pa­nies to cease do­ing busi­ness in Xin­jiang al­to­gether, harm­ing le­git­i­mate pro­duc­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers, be­cause there is no ef­fec­tive way to in­spect and au­dit sup­pli­ers in the re­gion.

In the let­ter, the Cham­ber urged Congress to de­velop “tar­geted for­eign pol­icy tools and to work with the busi­ness com­mu­nity to com­bat these abuses.”

There is strong sen­ti­ment among Repub­li­cans and Democrats to im­pose penal­ties on China amid in­creas­ingly bit­ter re­la­tions be­tween the two na­tions over a range of is­sues, in­clud­ing trade, es­pi­onage and the coro­n­avirus out­break.

Some com­pa­nies and trade groups op­pose a re­gion-wide dec­la­ra­tion be­cause it puts the bur­den on pri­vate en­ter­prises to en­sure an of­ten com­plex, global sup­ply chain is free of ma­te­ri­als that have been pro­duced with forced la­bor.

Im­ports made with forced la­bor have been banned since 1930 to en­sure fair trade. En­force­ment has in­creased in re­cent years and U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion has blocked ship­ments by eight com­pa­nies and en­ti­ties oper­at­ing in Xin­jiang over the past year. The bill passed Tues­day would go fur­ther, shift­ing the bur­den to any com­pany that op­er­ates in Xin­jiang or buys goods from there to prove their goods are not tainted.

“It’s go­ing to re­quire some dis­lo­ca­tion,” said Rep Earl Blu­me­nauer. “We may even pay a dime or two more for a pair of socks or a T-shirt.”

But it’s worth it to not be com­plicit in “hor­rific op­pres­sion,” the Ore­gon Demo­crat said.

A non-govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Worker Rights Con­sor­tium, says about one in five cot­ton gar­ments sold in the US con­tain con­tent from the

Uighur re­gion.

Repub­li­cans and Democrats have been vo­cal in their con­dem­na­tion of China over the treat­ment of Uighurs and other eth­nic mi­nori­ties in the Xin­jiang re­gion. Since 2017, more than a mil­lion peo­ple have been swept up into vast in­tern­ment camps where they are sub­jected to re-ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams in­tended to force them to as­sim­i­late into the dom­i­nant Han Chi­nese cul­ture.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has por­trayed its ac­tiv­i­ties in Xin­jiang as part of a cam­paign against a vi­o­lent sep­a­ratist move­ment and bris­tles at crit­i­cism of what it con­sid­ers an in­ter­nal man­ner. It says the camps are vo­ca­tional train­ing cen­ters and de­nies al­le­ga­tions of what US of­fi­cials and hu­man rights groups say amount to slav­ery in the re­gion.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed leg­is­la­tion in June im­pos­ing sanc­tions on Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party of­fi­cials over its treat­ment of the Uighurs and other mi­nori­ties.

That was the same day as the re­lease of a book from for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton, in which he said that Trump told Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping that he was right to build de­ten­tion camps to house hun­dreds of thou­sands of eth­nic mi­nori­ties.

Trump later told Ax­ios in an in­ter­view that he did not want to jeop­ar­dize trade talks with China by pe­nal­iz­ing the gov­ern­ment for its cam­paign against mi­nori­ties in Xin­jiang.

In this im­age made from un­dated, file video footage run by China’s CCTVvia AP Video, Mus­lim trainees work in a gar­ment fac­tory at the Hotan Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing Cen­ter in Hotan, Xin­jiang, north­west China. (AP)

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