The United States and allies separately announced that they will not be importing specific items from the Xinjiang region in China because it is produced by slave labor. In the U.S., the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) department issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO) and has instructed all ports of entry in the country to detain tomato and cotton labeled as being produced or grown in Xinjiang. This also includes tomato seeds, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, textiles, and apparel. The ban began on Jan. 13.
The CBP took action against Xinjiang-based products after learning that forced labor was prevalent in the region. The agency identified several indicators that pointed to forced labor: restriction of movement, withholding of wages, isolation, debt bondage, abusive working conditions, and threats.
“CBP will not tolerate the Chinese government’s exploitation of modern slavery to import goods into the United States below fair market value… Imports made on the cheap by using forced labor hurt American businesses that respect human rights and also expose unsuspecting consumers to unethical purchases,” acting commissioner Mark A. Morgan said in a statement.
Since the beginning of fiscal year 2021, the CBP has issued four WROs, with one of them on products sourced from Xinjiang. Of the 13 WROs issued by the agency in 2020, eight of them targeted products from communist China. In December 2020, the CBP issued a WRO on cotton and cotton products from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a CCP paramilitary organization.
Xinjiang is estimated to supply 20 percent of the world’s cotton
A restriction on sourcing cotton from that region can have severe consequences. China has lashed out at the new CBP WRO, demanding that Washington drop its ban immediately. Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesperson, called the forced labor issue the “lie of the century.” He alleged that the U.S. restrictions are aimed at hurting Chinese companies.
Canada has coordinated with the UK to block items produced through forced labor in Xinjiang. They have blocked these slave-made goods from entering domestic and global supply chains as well as preventing Canadian companies from becoming a part of it. Canada’s approach includes a Xinjiang Integration Declaration for Canadian companies, enhanced advisory to Canadian businesses, and issuing a business advisory on Xinjiang-related entities.
“Canada is deeply concerned regarding the mass arbitrary detention and mistreatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities by Chinese authorities. Nobody should face mistreatment on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. Together with the UK, we are taking action to ensure we are not complicit in the abuse of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang,” Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne said in a statement.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has announced that the UK will be reviewing its export controls. The UK will make sure no British companies and organizations will be profiting from forced labor in Xinjiang. The government will establish a set of guidelines that will aid British companies in this matter. Businesses that violate such rules can be charged under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.