Recent revelations on Chinese forced labor will hopefully spur a second American “pivot” in Asia, this time away from China. Last week, over 180 civil rights organizations called out various apparel brands in China for using forced labor from the Xinjiang region. This follows an earlier claim by the New York Times that 17 out of 51 Chinese companies making medical personal protective equipment are part of a controversial labor program that imports ethic minorities from the Xinjiang region. Some believe that this program incorporates forced labor, and the New York Times claimed that at least one shipment from this program arrived in the United States.
The U.S. departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security recently issued a joint advisory warning U.S. companies to monitor their business in China, and in the Xinjiang region in particular, for exposure to forced labor in their supply chains. The joint advisory cautioned U.S. businesses doing business in Xinjiang, or with labor exported to other parts of China from Xinjiang, due to the prevalence of “forced labor and other abusive labor conditions” among these populations.
The joint advisory highlighted how problematic China’s supply chains are. China’s “mutual pairing assistance program” involves 19 Chinese cities and provinces that are opening factories in Xinjiang. Additionally, the Chinese government incentivizes Chinese companies and local governments to open factories near Uyghur internment camps, and for Chinese companies to employ the prisoners of those camps. This has been happening beginning in April 2019 in the textile and garment industry. China has been involuntarily transferring laborers from Xinjiang to locations across China for the garment, electronics, and automobile industries, and for using forced labor in prisons in the cotton, apparel, and agricultural industries.
Global brands profit from these tainted supply chains. This March, an Australia think tank reported on the “mass transfer” of various minority populations “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labor” from Xinjiang to other parts of China. The report found these workers were transferred, at some point, to supply chains of at least 83 “well-known global brands.” Several of these companies issued statements, some which are included in the report, denying or downplaying their involvement or stating that they are no longer involved in the forced labor supply chain at issue. The 83 companies included in the report include the following, sorted by industry:
China’s treatment of the Uyghur population, which likely includes forced labor and (as I have discussed before in The American Spectator) crimes against humanity and genocide, should lead the United States to decouple from China as much as possible.
The U.S. is making tangible moves in that direction. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S. 3471/H.R. 6210), introduced in March, requires companies to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that goods from Xinjiang imported into the United States are not the products of forced labor. It also imposes visa or financial sanctions on any foreigner who “knowingly engages” in this forced labor or in supporting this forced labor. This month, the U.S. Department of State imposed sanctions and visa restrictions on three members of the Chinese Communist Party for their involvement in human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The State Department is helping to convince several countries, most recently the United Kingdom, from contracting with Huawei for 5G networks. The State Department should continue to fight Huawei in other countries, as it is doing in the EU. The U.S. Departments of State and Commerce are also considering ways to bring manufacturing and sourcing out of China through things like re-shoring subsidies and tax incentives.
But there is more work to be done. The U.S. should incentivize companies to move production away from China, similarly to what Taiwan and Japan are doing and South Korea and Australia are contemplating. The U.S. could also issue “time limited tax incentives” to develop national industry for critical goods such as medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. Additionally, the U.S. should build a long-term “national infrastructure strategy,” which would bring about greater independence from China in areas of technology; communications; and scientific, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM)–related infrastructure. The State Department should also flesh out its Economic Prosperity Network plan as part of a more comprehensive strategy to de-couple the United States from China as much as possible. Whether by this approach or another one, the United States should free itself from supply chains involving forced labor.