Urge Congress to prevent Uyghur forced labor in China
Since 2017, the Chinese government has detained as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Province. The Uyghurs—as well as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minority groups—are subject to detention, forced labor, mass surveillance, involuntary sterilization, violation of religious liberty, and other human rights abuses.
Factory work is a core component of the Chinese government's program of internment and indoctrination. The intermingling of voluntary and involuntary labor, coupled with intense surveillance and repression, makes it challenging to obtain complete information and conduct due diligence. Experts believe that all production in Xinjiang is inextricable from coerced labor, which means that many companies are unknowingly implicated in these abusive practices. The U.S. must stand up for the Uyghur people and take action to prevent human rights abuses.
In 2017, the Chinese government began building up a vast network of detention centers in Xinjiang Province and arbitrarily imprisoning Uyghur Muslims. China has detained as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, amounting to the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority group since World War Two. In January 2021, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghurs to be a genocide.
Firsthand accounts paint a dystopian picture of life in Xinjiang. In the past three years, at least 9,000 mosques in Xinjiang were destroyed, and thousands more were damaged. Hundreds of thousands of children have been separated from their families, and Uyghur women are frequently subjected to forced sterilization.
Forced labor is an integral part of this repressive system. Both inside and outside of the detention camps, Uyghurs are coerced into taking factory jobs. This economic exploitation is also a form of cultural erasure: Chinese authorities believe that factory labor helps to assimilate Uyghur Muslims to the culture of the Han majority.
Under the 1930 Tariff Act, the United States is banned from importing products that were made with prison or slave labor. However, because of intense repression in Xinjiang, it is impossible to conduct due diligence. According to a bipartisan report from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, any company that operates in Xinjiang—whether directly or indirectly—is at risk of complicity in forced labor. So far, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has barred importation of goods from some sectors, but these restrictions only cover a fraction of the economic activity that is implicated in Uyghur forced labor.
In March 2021, the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, and European Union issued coordinated sanctions on top Chinese government officials to hold them accountable for their role in Xinjiang’s forced labor and imprisonment system. However, these sanctions are limited and further congressional action is required.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (H.R. 1155/S. 65), introduced by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA-2) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), would establish the “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang are produced with forced labor, and ban the importation of these goods. The bill would also impose sanctions on individuals responsible for China’s forced labor system, direct the federal government to develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure enforcement of prohibitions on forced labor and combat human rights abuses against Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, and instruct the Secretary of State to officially determine whether China’s actions in Xinjiang constitute genocide within the definitions of U.S. law. The House version of the bill would also require that securities issuers disclose their connections with any entities that are implicated in China’s mass surveillance and detention systems, which may subject them to investigation or criminal proceedings.
Last year, the bill passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support. Now, the 117th Congress must pass this legislation and stand up for the freedom of the Uyghur people.
As Jews, we are all too familiar with the consequences of state-sanctioned surveillance, repression, and internment of people simply because of their religion. In Nazi Germany, Jews suffered, in part, because of the lack of strong international action to stand up against horrific human rights abuses. The Torah teaches: "You may not stand idly by when your neighbor's blood is being shed" (Leviticus 19:16). We are committed to standing up for those who face persecution, and we call upon our elected officials to do the same.
For More Information
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For more information on this issue, visit the RAC’s International Religious Freedom page or contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Courtney Cooperman at 202-387-2800.