In a development that acknowledges the open secret of China using forced labor in its modern concentration camps in Xinjiang, the United States has banned the import of cotton from the quasi-military organization that uses detained Uighur Muslims in its forced labor camps.
In a statement, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency stated, the “Withhold Release Order” would ban cotton and cotton products from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).
XPCC is one of China’s largest cotton producers and in 2015, produced 30% of China’s cotton. Earlier this year in July, the U.S. Treasury Department banned all dollar transactions with the entity.
While the Treasure department targeted XPCC’s financial structure, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency will force apparel firms and other companies importing cotton products from China into the United States to eliminate XPCC-produced cotton fiber from the supply chain of U.S. companies, said Brenda Smith, CBP’s executive assistant commissioner for trade.
Incidentally, CBP has the authority to detain shipments based on suspicion of forced-labor involvement under long-standing U.S. laws to combat human trafficking, child labor and other human rights abuses.
According to Kenneth Cuccinelli, the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a Xinjiang region-wide cotton import ban was still being studied.
“The cheap cotton goods you may be buying for family and friends during this season of giving – if coming from China – may have been made by slave labor in some of the most egregious human rights violations existing today in the modern world,” said Cuccinelli.
While U.S. apparel makers opined that the ban was nearly impossible to enforce, clothings and other retails group however welcomed CBP’s XPCC-specific ban saying they were on the “front lines of efforts to ensure forced labor does not taint our supply chains or enter the United States.”
The group, which includes the American Apparel and Footwear Association as well as the National Retail Federation, said ending forced labor and repression in China cannot be achieved with U.S. unilateral pressure but required a “whole of world approach.”
The Trump Administration has applied significant pressure on state-owned Chinese companies and has even banned them from tapping U.S. technology and investments. It is to be seen how the Biden Administration, seen as being soft on China, coordinates with U.S. allies to apply pressure on China to curb its gross human rights and trade abuses.
The United Nations has cited credible reports saying more than 1 million Muslims are being held in Chinese camps and are being put to work. Numerous allegations of harvesting human organs from Uighurs and Tibetans have also surfaced.
While acknowledging the existence of the camps, China has denied the allegations saying the camps are vocational training centers needed to fight extremism.