The US already had several sanctions for imports from Xinjiang, where rights groups say Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities have faced human rights abuses, including being held in mass internment camps.
Under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, passed in late 2021, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will now block all imports made into the region. It would also block goods made by firms outside the region, whose ties with Xinjiang companies or the Xinjiang government complicate them – in the Commerce Department’s view – in forced labor practices.
“Importers must prove to authorities with ‘clear and convincing evidence’ that they wish to resume imports if the goods are not produced by forced labor,” the CBP said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the ban underscores the Biden administration’s commitment to combating forced labor everywhere.
“We join hands with our allies and partners to free global supply chains from the use of forced labor, to speak out against atrocities in Xinjiang, and to call on the government of the (People’s Republic of China) to end atrocities immediately. and human rights abuses including forced labor,” Blinken said.
The Chinese commerce ministry responded on Tuesday, saying it was “strongly opposed” to the ban, which it said “seriously harms the interests of companies and consumers in both countries.”
“The truth is that Chinese laws explicitly ban forced labor,” the ministry said, adding that China would take “necessary action” to protect its national interests.
CBP has intensified efforts in recent years to block goods from Xinjiang under both the Trump and Biden administrations. In 2020, the US government announced that it would halt imports of cotton from Xinjiang – manufacturing on other orders prohibiting such products from entering the US.
The State Department has estimated that since 2017, up to two million Uighurs and members of other ethnic groups have been imprisoned in a shadowy network of internment camps, where they are allegedly subjected to “torture, cruel and inhumane treatment such as physical and subjected to sexual abuse, forced labor, and death.”
China has described the facilities as “vocational training centres” and claimed that such centers were closed in 2019. The authorities have consistently denied all allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Western governments and human rights organizations have alleged that minorities in the region have been subjected to forced labor through job creation schemes that the Chinese government says are aimed at achieving “poverty alleviation”. Workers who participated in those job programs have told CNN that if they were not offered jobs, they were warned that they would be sent to camps for a fraction of the normal pay rate.