American Supply Chains Linked to Forced Labor of China’s Religious Minorities

07/14/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On July 1, four US government agencies issued an advisory warning that American companies sourcing from Chinese manufacturers may be selling products made using forced labor of religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In their statement, the departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security cited China’s ongoing human rights abuses against ethnic and religious groups in Xinjiang, including religious persecution, political indoctrination, and forced labor.

According to a March 2020 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, factories that use the forced labor of detained religious minorities are involved in the supply chains of at least 83 global brands, including those of well-known American companies like Apple, Gap, and Nike.

Unfortunately, these reports of forced labor practices are not surprising to many. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has repeatedly persecuted religious minorities and suppressed political dissent, especially in Xinjiang. In the past decade, the CCP has ramped up its surveillance measures in Xinjiang with more cameras in public areas, an increased police presence, and enhanced artificial intelligence allowing the CCP to identify and track the activity of Uyghurs and Christians.

Although the CCP has primarily targeted the Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang, Christians have also fallen victim to the oppressive campaign. Christians are required to show their government-issued ID cards to enter state-registered churches for Sunday services. Christians, along with millions of Uyghur Muslims, are also being detained and taken to state “re-education” camps. While the CCP claims that these are voluntary vocational training centers, former detainees have compared these to prisons and even concentration camps, referring to their use as “cultural genocide.”

According to the joint advisory, certain Chinese manufacturers aided by the CCP currently utilize forced labor in multiple ways. The first is via a government plan, known as the “mutual pairing assistance” program, whereby the government subsidizes companies that open plants in Xinjiang and employ labor from the internment camps. There have also been reports of “mass transfers” of detainees from the camps to eastern factories by train. Additionally, Xinjiang prisons have reportedly forced inmates to labor in cotton and apparel sectors, with Xinjiang accounting for 84 percent of China’s total cotton production.

Some notable apparel companies like Nike, Gap, and H&M have responded to the claims denying that they source from Xinjiang.

The issue of forced labor in Xinjiang is also not a new one for Congress. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, seeking to prevent the use of products with forced labor in their supply lines, was introduced on March 11. The bill would prohibit the use of goods sourced from Xinjiang, with exceptions made only after companies could present “clear and convincing evidence” that the goods were not produced using forced labor.

Although Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the bill’s sponsor, seemed optimistic at the prospects for the legislation due to its bipartisan support, the Act still remains in committee and has yet to be put to a vote. “On a lot of issues we can’t come together,” Rep. McGovern conceded in a hearing on the topic. “We have come together on this issue.”

Along with the CCP’s recent national security laws for Hong Kong, this issue puts the conduct of the Chinese leadership under increased scrutiny. As Beijing is still set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, some are calling for the United States to boycott these games to publicly shame China for its human rights abuses and apply pressure to the CCP. In conjunction with more traditional sanctions against Chinese officials, many hope that such actions will finally bring an end to the atrocities of the CCP.

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