Congress holds first hearing on implementation of Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act American companies who may be profiteering from forced labor come under scrutiny at China Commission hearing
Enforcement action and public scrutiny will be brought to bear against American companies who seek to skirt the law by profiteering from forced labor, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), warned today at the first congressional hearing on the implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA).
“The United States is in a survival struggle with an authoritarian state that seeks global hegemony and the fundamental displacement of the United States and the liberal economic order,” said Smith, who has chaired over 85 congressional hearings and markups on China’s egregious human rights abuses.
“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is taking advantage of the Western world’s liberal trade regime, while utilizing forced labor to give itself an unfair trade advantage—all with the ultimate objective of imposing its governance model upon the rest of the world,” said Smith.
The CECC hearing comes on the heels of new reports that US Customs and Border Protection (CPB) has seized over $961 million worth of goods since last June under the UFPLA.
Signed into law in December 2021, the bipartisan legislation that Smith cosponsored with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) is aimed at stopping US imports produced by slave labor—including from China’s Xinjiang Region, where the CCP is committing genocide against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Central Asian minorities.
“It is my hope that UFLPA will prick the consciences of corporate actors and encourage them to scour their supply chains to make sure they are free from the taint of forced labor,” said Smith. “For those that are incorrigible and seek to skirt the law, we will seek enforcement action and bring public scrutiny to bear.”
“We have been working with Homeland Security to follow up on well-founded reports that work gloves sold under the Milwaukee Tool label in venues such as Home Depot are indeed produced by prison labor—at Chishan Prison in Hunan province to be precise,” Smith continued.
“We will be taking a closer look at companies such as Milwaukee Tool and their alleged profiteering from forced labor, just as we have highlighted the role of Thermo Fisher Scientific in genetic data collection that enables repressive practices in both the Xinjiang Uyghur and Tibet Autonomous Regions—and, more nefariously, has been implicated in finding DNA matches from organ harvesting victims,” Smith added.
Smith’s hearing included compelling testimony from a panel of experts—including Anasuya Syam, Human Rights and Trade Policy Director at the Human Trafficking Legal Center; Laura Murphy, Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery for the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University; Kit Conklin, Nonresident Senior Fellow for the GeoTech Center at Atlantic Council; and Elfidar Iltebir, President of the Uyghur American Association.
Iltebir noted that while both the Trump and Biden Administrations have recognized China’s atrocities against the Uyghurs as genocide, “US businesses are still operating in the genocide zone, US companies are still selling technology to Chinese companies implementing this genocide, and US companies are still investing in Chinese companies supporting the Chinese government’s genocidal policies.”
“We are worried that CBP may be missing shipments—illegally transshipped or otherwise—containing inputs from Xinjiang that could be entering the United States from other countries,” said Syam. “Transshipment is certainly a big challenge for CBP. The agency should have a specific strategy to address the issue of transshipment of Xinjiang-origin goods via third countries, a critical element of which must be a robust program of on-site, third country verifications of the provenance of potentially transshipped goods.”
“Our research team has identified 55,000 companies, large and small, operating in the Uyghur Region,” said Murphy. “We have published in-depth investigations that have documented at least 150 specific companies in the Uyghur Region and elsewhere in China for which there is significant evidence of participation in state-sponsored labor transfer programs that are tantamount to forced labor. These companies are hiding in plain sight.”
Conklin emphasized “the need for due diligence into all suppliers, not just those located in China,” noting that since UFLPA enforcement began, CBP has detained $89 million worth of goods imported directly from China, but detained over $490 million worth of goods from Malaysia and over $369 million worth of goods from Vietnam.