- Human rights groups expect the bill that would ban imported goods made with forced labour in China’s Xinjiang region will be passed by the US Senate.
- Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple are among the big companies reportedly lobbying Congress against the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act.
- The head of the Workers Rights Consortium told Business Insider that these businesses “face an uphill battle” to weaken or stop the bill.
- Nike said it does not source textiles or spun yarn from the region, but Scott Nova pointed out that cotton is missing from the list – and 80% of China’s cotton comes from Xinjiang.
- Leaving the region altogether is the “only effective way to ensure you’re within the bounds of the law,” an Uyghur Human Rights Project official told Business Insider.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Human rights groups said Tuesday that the bill that would ban imported goods made with forced labour in China’s Xinjiang region will most likely be passed by the Senate.
The bill, which was introduced by the US government earlier this year, could require companies to ensure they are not sourcing products from the Xinjiang region, where Muslim minorities â€” mainly Uighurs â€” are reportedly forced to work and live in detention camps for little or no pay.
In response, many large businesses have attempted to dilute the bill. They argue that the legislation’s requirements could heavily impact supply chains embedded in China.
According to congressional staff members and people with knowledge of the matter, lobbying records show vast spending on the legislation.
In September, the House voted 406-3 to declare that any goods made by persecuted Muslim minorities in Xinjiang are prohibited from being imported into the US.
The bill could pass the Senate and become law by either the Trump or Biden administration, congressional staff members said.
Human rights groups also believe the bill has the support needed to pass the Senate. They said large corporations opposing the bill “face an uphill battle” to weaken or stop the bill.
The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region, a group of civil society organisations and trade unions worldwide, are holding big companies accountable for contributing to supply chains linked to Xinjiang.
Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, which is part of the coalition, told Business Insider: “There are very few members of Congress who want to be seen opposing this legislation.”
“The bill requires corporations to prove that certain products they are importing were not made with forced labour. Corporations seeking to weaken the bill presumably do not believe they will be able to supply such proof,” Nova said.
Nova said if the bill is weakened or fails, “it will facilitate further complicity by US corporations in forced labour in Xinjiang and diminish the prospects for a near-term end to the egregious labour and human rights abuses in the region.”
“It won’t be the end of the battle,” he added.
What do the companies say?
When asked about their supply chain feeding into Xinjiang, Nike referred to statement from March that said the company doesn’t source products from the Chinese region. “We have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region,” it said.
Nova noted there is a conspicuous absence of cotton from Nike’s list. Textiles and yarn production make up only a small part of China’s overall production, according to Nova.
“It is virtually certain that the company is â€” through its suppliers â€” sourcing cotton from the Uyghur region,” Nova said. “Cotton is the issue.”
China is the world’s biggest supplier of cotton products and more than 80% of the country’s cotton comes from Xinjiang.
Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. According to documents seen by The New York Times, the tech company suggested extending deadlines for compliance and holding back certain information from the public. It also proposed putting more pressure on the US government to see if Chinese entities were complicit in Muslim minority oppression.
While Coca-Cola sources sugar from the region, Nova said. In a statement, the company said it “strictly prohibits any type of forced labour in our supply chain” and uses auditors from third parties to observe its supply chain.
Coca-Cola said the COFCOTunhe facility in Xinjiang, which supplies sugar to a local bottling facility and had been linked to allegations of forced labour by The Wall Street Journal in May, “successfully completed an audit in 2019.”
Peter Irwin, senior program officer of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, told Business Insider that Coca-Cola’s statement shows “they have no idea how to effectively root out forced labour connected to the Uighur region.”
Auditors are not effective at finding forced labour when Uighur factory workers are under constant surveillance and threatened with detention for speaking out, according to Irwin.
He said the Xinjiang forced labour bill is the next step for Congress to hold China accountable over its human rights violations against Uighurs.
Irwin also emphasised that companies such as Nike need to clarify where they stand with the situation, especially as they have been aware of supply chains linked to forced labour for more than a year.
“If they are serious about following existing law, they would have already taken steps to extricate their supply chains from the Uighur region, but haven’t yet,” Irwin said.
“Leaving the Uighur region altogether is the only effective way to ensure you’re within the bounds of the law,” he added.
Until major companies cut all ties with factories and supply chains from Xinjiang, the human rights atrocities will continue.
“Forced labour is merely the latest manifestation of the Chinese government’s effort to erode the Uyghur identity to the point that it’s unrecognizable,” Irwin added. “The longer we wait, the closer the Chinese government will get to this end.”