Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act Gains Traction in Congress

For immediate release
September 18, 2020 10:45am EDT
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project
+1 (646) 906-7722

Uyghur Americans met with 58 Congressional offices in August and early September to urge action on China’s widespread use of Uyghur forced labor. The advocacy days coincided with increased attention to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a bill designed to end corporate complicity of American companies and consumers in forced labor.

The Uyghur American Association (UAA), the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), and Justice for All organized Virtual Lobby Days on Capitol Hill in August and September. Allies from Muslim, Jewish, and other community groups joined Uyghur Americans to urge their representatives to co-sponsor the bipartisan bill (H.R.6210 and S.3471). Uyghur Americans described the trauma of learning that dozens of family members had been taken away into mass-detention camps in 2017 and 2018, and asked Congress to take action. 

Elfidar Iltebir, Board member of the Uyghur American Association, said: “The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, if passed, will remove the economic incentives for the Chinese Government to use forced labor and push businesses to operate in humane and socially responsible manner.”

The bill finds that there is a “very high risk” that factories and other suppliers are exploiting forced labor and that corporate due diligence regarding supply chains is not possible as a result of mass surveillance, pervasive police presence, and harsh intimidation of factory workers. In practice, the ban implements existing U.S. law prohibiting all imports made with prison or forced labor. By Labor Day, the bill had 56 cosponsors in the House, up from 30 at the end of July.

“Companies that deal with suppliers using Uyghur forced labor are giving a seal of approval to the Chinese government’s inhuman, genocidal policies,” said UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat. “It is time for human rights violators to pay an economic penalty for their abuses.” 

The legislation is backed by the AFL-CIO and leaders of the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region. The Coalition’s Call to Action for companies to exit the Uyghur region is backed by 72 Uyghur rights groups around the world and 250+ investors, worker-rights groups, and other NGOs from over 35 countries. The UHRP and the UAA serve on the Coalition steering committee and urge all concerned groups to endorse the Call to Action. 

As UHRP Board Chair Nury Turkel explained in Congressional testimony in October 2019: “The evidence is now clear that all manufacturing in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is taking place under inhuman and degrading conditions – under a nightmare totalitarian police state preventing free choice and the free flow of information. If existing authorities are insufficient for the Customs and Border Protection Commission to issue Withhold Release Orders (WROs) commensurate with the risk of allowing illegal goods into the U.S., Congress must act to shift the burden of proof to companies that wish to import products from the Uyghur Region.”

On September 9, Uyghurs around the world sent a joint appeal to the Congress to act on Uyghur forced labor. The letter was signed by 70 organizations representing exiled and diaspora Uyghurs in 18 countries.