Xinjiang forced labor complex is growing — President Biden should work with Congress to curb it
© Getty Images

President BidenJoe BidenFauci says school should be open 'full blast' five days a week in the fall Overnight Defense: Military sexual assault reform bill has votes to pass in Senate l First active duty service member arrested over Jan. 6 riot l Israeli troops attack Gaza Strip Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart MORE’s pledge on the campaign trail to “see to it that America once again stands for human rights” is being put to the test. For him to honor his pledge the president must show the world that he is willing not only to recalibrate relationships with longtime allies but also to reset them, if necessary, with the mutual understanding that flagrant violations of human rights will be met with a strong response and those responsible will face accountability, even heads of state. It will not be enough for President Biden to simply do better than his predecessor, who consistently downplayed and undermined human rights — he must also work to reverse the damage left in Trump’s wake. One of the biggest challenges for the new president will be confronting Chinese President Xi Jinping over the Chinese government’s growing human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang.

For the last four years, U.S.-China policy was confused with mixed messages and driven by political expediency. Human rights took a back seat to other issues that Donald Trump thought would help him win reelection. It wasn’t just President TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE’s indifference or refusal to confront his Chinese counterpart directly. According to his former national security adviser, Donald Trump, on multiple occasions, encouraged Xi to keep building internment camps in Xinjiang because he thought it was “exactly the right thing to do.” It turns out President Xi may have been listening.

Government documents and satellite images first reported by Buzzfeed News revealed hundreds of newly constructed prison and internment camps — some big enough to hold tens of thousands of detainees — in China’s Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs and members of other Muslim ethnic minority groups. All the camps were constructed within the last three years and many came with factories nearby or built-in for detainee labor. In total, researchers discovered more than 1,500 companies working in or near the camps, including dozens that export products to countries around the world.

ADVERTISEMENT

Upwards of 100,000 Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are estimated to be working under forced conditions in China, either directly as detainee labor in Xinjiang or through labor transfer programs that pair Uyghurs with work assignments in other Chinese provinces, where they are assigned government minders and work shoulder to shoulder with legitimate laborers, often for less pay. These government-sponsored forced labor schemes help to hide the evidence of forced labor deep in global supply chains, making it harder for companies to ensure the goods they import are not tainted. From 2017 to 2019, more than 80,000 workers were transferred under the programs to factories in China that feed supply chains for some of the biggest companies in the world.

President Biden should work with Congress to pass two bills to help curb the rapid expansion of forced labor in Xinjiang and bring more transparency to opaque supply chains — the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act. Taken together, the legislation would effectively block imports from Xinjiang as well as require U.S. companies that operate in the region to file disclosures regarding their supply chains with the Securities and Exchange Commission to ensure that they are not complicit in forced labor practices. Both bills passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year with bipartisan support, but died in the Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Biden, Senate GOP take step toward infrastructure deal as other plans hit speed bumps Senate GOP to give Biden infrastructure counteroffer next week Masks shed at White House; McConnell: 'Free at last' MORE-led Senate.

Despite all the recent attention on forced labor, imports from Xinjiang to the U.S. remarkably doubled last year, showing that we still have a lot of work to do to remove products of forced labor from American store shelves. President Biden knows he will need more than tough tweets and tariffs if he expects to effectively confront Beijing’s human rights abuses and system of forced labor. Human rights defenders in Congress on both sides of the aisle stand ready to work with the administration.

Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonAdministration withdraws Trump-era proposal to loosen protections for transgender homeless people Trump the X-factor in Virginia governor race Xinjiang forced labor complex is growing — President Biden should work with Congress to curb it MORE represents Virginia’s 10th District and serves on the House Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. She is the author of the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act.