The U.S. government is increasing its pressure on Chinese interests and authorities to stop engaging in labor practices that violate basic human rights. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has issued a third Withhold Release Order (WRO) for cotton products and tomato products produced in Xinjiang, China. The order, which went into effect on Jan. 13, applies to “all products made in whole or in part using this cotton or these tomatoes, regardless of where the downstream products are produced.”
The new order stems from the findings of an investigation conducted by the CBP that revealed such “forced labor indicators” in the province as “debt bondage, restriction of movement, isolation, intimidation and threats, withholding of wages, and abusive living and working conditions.” The CBP’s acting commissioner, Mark A. Morgan, has gone so far as to speak of the “Chinese government’s exploitation of modern slavery,” notably of the region’s Uyghur Muslims. “Imports made on the cheap by using forced labor,” he continues, “hurt American businesses that respect human rights and also expose unsuspecting consumers to unethical purchases.”
Measures already taken before the latest order include an advisory issued by the U.S. government in July 2020 to “caution businesses about the reputational, financial, and legal risks of forced labor in Xinjiang” and a previous WRO from the CBP issued on Dec. 2, 2020, on cotton and cotton products produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which the CBP describes as an “economic and paramilitary organization subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party.”
The CBP has issued two WROs since the beginning of fiscal 2021 on products originating in Xinjiang. Eight of its 13 WROs from fiscal 2020 were on goods made by forced labor in China.