Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
A bipartisan bill aimed at punishing China for its use of forced labor in the production of goods bound for the U.S. is poised to become a law.
Thursday, following last-minute negotiating by bill coauthor Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection bill passed the Senate by unanimous vote. As the bill cleared the House in a near-unanimous vote Tuesday, it needs only President Joe Biden’s signature to become a law.
The language of the bill bans all imports from Xinjiang, the region in China home to a sizeable Uyghur population and notorious for its labor camps, unless the U.S. government is satisfied that “clear and convincing evidence” exists that the product was not made with forced labor.
Since 1903, it has been illegal for any U.S. company to import goods produced by means of slavery, a fact Rubio pointed to as he defended the bill prior to the vote.
“(The bill) basically says that you can’t import products into the United States that are made by slave labor in Xinjiang, or from entities that are associated with the government of that region,” Rubio said. “And if you’re a company who is manufacturing in that area, you’re going to need to prove that slaves didn’t make it. The presumption is on you.”
Xinjiang is notable for its partnerships with numerous major American corporations. As first reported in the New York Times, both Nike and Coca-Cola had lobbied against the bill in 2020.
In July, as reported by Politico, U.S. industries changed course and began pressuring Democrats to support the bill. The change seems to have been caused by language in the bill that will streamline the customs process.
“Many companies have already taken steps to clean up their supply chains,” Rubio said. “And, frankly, they should have no concerns about this law. For those who have not done that, they’ll no longer be able to continue to make Americans — every one of us, frankly — unwitting accomplices in the atrocities, in the genocide that’s being committed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
This week, the only threat to the bill’s passage was from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who stalled the bill until Republicans agreed to confirm Nicholas Burns as the U.S. ambassador to China. When Rubio agreed to back Burns, Murphy lent his support to the Uyghur protection bill. Later in the day, Burns was confirmed.
Murphy said Burns, who rankled China during the opening statement of his confirmation hearing in October, was key to ensuring the new law has its intended effect.
“We’re going to be able in a few moments to speak together, Republicans and Democrats, on our commitment to ending genocide in China,” Murphy said on the Senate floor. “And I want to thank the Senator for working with me to make sure that as part of his unanimous consent request, we’re going to be able to make sure we have the personnel in place to properly implement this policy.”
By official tally, the only person in either house to vote no on Uyghur protection was Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). Massie did not comment on his no vote this week, but he’s been an opponent of the bill since 2019, when he explained in a tweet, “When our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs.”
Even before its passage in the Senate, news of the bill was met with anger from China.
“China firmly opposes the interference by the US Congress in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of Xinjiang-related issues,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Wednesday. “By cooking up lies and making troubles on such issues, some US politicians are seeking to contain China and hold back China’s development through political manipulation and economic bullying in the name of ‘human rights.’”
Try as the nation might to deflect, the People’s Republic of China has for years been criticized by numerous human rights organizations and scholarly groups for its treatment of its Uyghur population, and the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act represents the most substantive sanction China has faced for its human rights record.
“We must take a clear moral position to stand with those who are suffering because of forced labor,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who co-authored the bill with Rubio, said earlier this month. “No more business as usual.”
President Biden has indicated that he will sign the bill, and maneuvers were already being made at the Federal level to ratchet up pressure on Chinese businesses.
Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security placed investment and export restrictions on numerous Chinese businesses the bureau believes have been complicit in oppressing Uyghurs. This came only days after the Unites States, Canada, and U.K. announced sweeping sanctions against China over human rights issues.