US bans imports of Xinjiang cotton and tomato products

Forced labor concerns spark ban by outgoing Trump administration

Workers dealing with collected cotton in China's Xinjiang in 2006

Workers dealing with collected cotton in China's Xinjiang in 2006 (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Cotton and tomato products imported from China’s Xinjiang will be detained at all ports of entry in the U.S. as of Wednesday (Jan. 13).

The directive comes from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which enacted a withhold release order (WRO) on the goods based on credible evidence of “debt bondage, restriction of movement, isolation, intimidation and threats, withholding of wages, and abusive living conditions,” according to a press release.

Xinjiang has in recent years been transformed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) into a modern-day gulag archipelago, which the United Nations estimates holds over 1 million ethnic Uyghur people in concentration camps. Hundreds of thousands have also been coerced into laboring in the region’s cotton industry, according to a recent investigation by the BBC.

“The CBP will not tolerate the Chinese government’s exploitation of modern slavery to import goods in the United States far below fair market value,” said CBP Acting Commissioner Mark A. Morgan.

“Imports made on the cheap by using forced labor hurt American businesses that respect human rights and also expose unsuspecting consumers to unethical purchases,” he continued.

Products subject to the new rules include apparel, textiles, tomato seeds, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and other goods. Importers in the U.S. will have the opportunity to re-export the goods to a third country or attempt to prove that no forced labor occurred at any stage along the supply chain.

Xinjiang accounts for 20 percent of the world’s cotton and 84 percent of the cotton grown in China. The size of the Xinjiang cotton industry is roughly US$9 billion, and The New York Times estimated last year that one in five cotton garments contains Xinjiang cotton.

Eight of the 13 WRO violations handed out by the CBP in 2020 were to entities in the region. On Dec. 2 of last year, a previous violation was given to the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (兵團), which the CBP describes as an “economic and paramilitary organization subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party." The sanctioned organization is responsible for 17 percent of Xinjiang’s cotton.

On Sept. 22, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would ban many imports from Xinjiang unless they could be proven to have come from free labor. However, the bill has yet to pass in the Senate.

Updated : 2021-01-20 06:41 GMT+08:00