Hundreds of multinationals and small businesses use forced or slave labor in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. At this time, it is unclear how the Biden administration will respond to such abhorrent employment practices.
On June 22, Jewish World Watch, an NGO, launched an online database of companies that employ or appear to employ this workforce, either directly or through suppliers. There are now 803 companies from over 35 countries in the database.
The publication comes at the right time because the day before, the Uyghur law on the prevention of forced labor came into force. US law creates a rebuttable presumption that goods made in Xinjiang were produced with forced labor and therefore are not eligible for importation into the United States under the Tariff Act of 1930.
Some fear President Joe Biden will not enforce the new law. Apple and Nike, two companies that must have known about Uyghur forced labor in their supply chains, fought hard against the passage of the law, as did the Biden administration itself. The president signed the bill, but only after it passed both houses of Congress with non-veto majorities.
Why would Biden allow the Uyghur law on the prevention of forced labor to become a dead letter? The new law, among other things, conflicts with his cherished climate change goals.
To advance his climate agenda, the president on June 6 removed tariffs on solar cells and modules from four Southeast Asian countries: Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. But the big beneficiary is the Xinjiang region, as products made there are often mislabeled as made in these four countries, especially Vietnam, to avoid tariffs and bans.
“Vietnam doesn’t produce all ‘Made in Vietnam’ products,” said Los Angeles-based trade expert Jonathan Bass. Newsweek. “They are made in China. Beijing, with false invoices and false bills of lading, should receive the Nobel Prize for fiction.”
Biden thinks he has to import solar panels, which means he will import polysilicon, a pure form of silicon often made into solar cells and modules.
If something is made with polysilicon, regardless of labeling, chances are it was made in whole or in part by forced or slave labor in the People’s Republic of China.
Manufacturers in Xinjiang produce 45% of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon, according to Serena Oberstein, executive director of Jewish World Watch. Her organization’s database, she says Newsweekreveals that all polysilicon manufacturers in Xinjiang take advantage of notorious labor transfer programs or use suppliers who do.
The Chinese government is rounding up and regimenting Uyghurs and other Turkish minorities so they can be offered to companies as involuntary labor. “The database,” Oberstein said, “is a stunning illustration of how China taints global supply chains, especially those in the green energy sector.”
Theoretically, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and other laws should ban the import of mislabeled polysilicon, but Rushan Abbas, executive director of the Uighur Campaign, said Newsweek she fears the administration is becoming lax over its climate agenda.
Bass, who moved his furniture and upholstery operations out of China when he saw Chinese labor conditions firsthand, is also concerned that companies are using “supplier ratings” to cover up forced and slave labor. “Factories in China keep two sets of records and operate in two different ways, for audit days and non-audit days, so the auditing firms they hire never see horrible labor practices. “, he said in comments to this publication. “Of course, the auditors know what’s going on because, even if the audits are theoretically unannounced, the factories know the days when the auditors will come. And, unfortunately, the American customers, who rely on the audits to show that their practices of work are compliant, look at it differently.”
For decades, China escaped slavery because slave labor, especially when auditing firms knowingly hide horrific practices, makes money for everyone in the chain of trade. Chinese factories, shipping companies and American retailers, among others, are profiting.
Ultimately, then, the question is one of morality: Can America, as an equal society, tolerate modern slavery? So far the answer has been “yes”.
Of course, the answer must be “no”.
“The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act targets the financial engine of the Uyghur genocide and ensures that Western companies and Chinese state-owned enterprises cannot profit from Chinese state atrocities,” Abbas said. “Targeting China’s wallet is key to forcing an end to these crimes.”
Slavery, like other crimes against humanity, are also crimes against individuals. “My sister, Gulshan Abbas, could have made your shirt,” Abbas points out. “Famous Uyghur writers, professors, philanthropists and pop stars could have picked the cotton in your closet.”
“Biden, thanks to Congress, now has a tool to end the horror of slavery in China,” Bass says. “His administration must uphold the law.”
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The impending collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter: @GordonGChange.
The opinions expressed in his article are those of the author.