Experts Commend Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act Implementation, Call for More Muscle

Coalition members cite Entity List and third-country imports as key for tougher enforcement

At a Congressional hearing today, experts called for urgent action to improve the effectiveness of a key import law to fight forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (Uyghur Region). The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) bans all imports from the Uyghur Region unless the importer can provide “clear and convincing evidence” that forced labor was not involved in their production. The law, in effect since June 2022, is the strongest forced labor import prohibition in the world and a model for other jurisdictions considering similar measures, but requires more robust enforcement. Agencies tasked with UFLPA implementation should increase enforcement efforts on third-country imports, develop a comprehensive Entity List, and address de minimis shipments.

At today’s hearing organized by the bipartisan and bicameral US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, witnesses covered enforcement strengths and areas for improvement.

“There must be no loophole for companies to profit from the forced labor occurring in my homeland. Multinational corporations with ‘direct-to-consumer’ business models should not be permitted to skirt UFLPA compliance,” said Elfidar Iltebir, President of the Uyghur American Association. “The UFLPA does not shield these individual packages from scrutiny, and enforcement agencies must prioritize targeting shipments from corporations attempting to circumvent the law.”

“The message is clear—forced labor is a ‘top tier’ compliance issue, and no longer the provenance of weak Codes of Conduct or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) measures. What changed? The advent of substantial legal and enforcement risk,” stated Anasuya Syam, Director of Human Rights and Trade at the Human Trafficking Legal Center. “However, CBP may be missing shipments containing inputs from the Uyghur Region that enter the United States from other countries… The agency should have a specific strategy to address the shipment of Uyghur Region-origin goods via third countries, a critical element of which must be a robust program of on-site, third-country verifications of the provenance of goods.”

“We are seeing companies pretend to sell their Uyghur Region factories… They change the names of their subsidiaries to obscure their identities. They’re shipping their products through other countries to mask their origin. They are bifurcating their supply chains so that they can continue to sell goods in the US market while selling Uyghur-forced-labor-tainted goods elsewhere in the world,” said Laura Murphy, Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University.

Murphy continued: “Our research team has identified 55,000 companies, large and small, operating in the Uyghur Region. We have published in-depth investigations that have documented at least 150 specific companies in the Uyghur Region and elsewhere in China for which there is significant evidence of participation in state-sponsored labor programs. And yet confoundingly, the UFLPA-mandated Entity List includes only four of the companies we have identified as offenders—and exactly zero new companies have been added since the UFLPA was passed… The US government needs to make the Entity List as comprehensive as possible, per the mandate of the UFLPA.”

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China sent a letter on April 11 to Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Robert Silvers, requesting additional information on the applicability review process, the lack of expansion of the Entity List, and de minimis shipments.

The government of China’s well-documented repression against Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples includes mass arbitrary detention and systematic state-imposed forced labor that, according to UN human rights experts, may constitute crimes against humanity. The UFLPA is the strongest piece of legislation, globally, to address corporate complicity in Uyghur forced labor. In addition to urging other governing bodies to enact similar policies, the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region continues to call on companies to adopt a single global standard in line with the requirements of the UFLPA and to refrain from re-exporting any goods denied entry to the US under the auspices of the UFLPA and attempting to sell in other markets.

Originally posted by the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region