Press Release

Progress in Long-Awaited Ban on Certain Products from the Uyghur Region of China

AFL-CIO calls on the Biden administration to ensure enforcement to eliminate this massive forced labor system.

Today, after several months of pressure from the AFL-CIO and allied groups, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials issued a new regional withhold release order (WRO) to block cotton and tomato goods tainted by forced labor in supply chains that start in the Uyghur Region in western China. 

“What matters now is effective enforcement of this WRO which should be a top priority of the incoming Administration,” said AFL-CIO International Director Cathy Feingold. “We will also need to work with our allies, including the European Union and Canada, to ensure that together we build and implement a set of global rules that eliminate forced labor and uphold worker rights throughout supply chains.”

 Under U.S. law 19 U.S.C. §1307 it is illegal for the United States to allow entry of goods, “produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor or/and indentured labor.” 

This announcement came after the AFL-CIO and human rights, labor and investor organizations filed a petition in August urging such a regional WRO on all cotton-made goods linked to the region. 

While the epicenter of these abuses is the Uyghur Region, the cotton supply chains flow through the United States and dozens of countries that import raw cotton, yarn and fabric from the region to produce finished textiles, clothing and home goods. Roughly 1-in-5 cotton garments sold globally contain cotton and/or yarn from the Uyghur Region. In late July, over 200 human and labor rights and investor organizations launched a campaign, End Uyghur Forced Labour, calling on global corporations to divest from the region and end their complicity in the egregious human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples in China. 

A sweeping WRO will require robust enforcement so corporations do not profit from forced labor via imports from the region. These measures must be accompanied by a comprehensive plan, sufficient funding and capacity building for CBP and Congressional oversight. Traditional corporate due diligence measures cannot operate in these supply chains and CBP cannot substitute for robust monitoring and enforcement. To start, the CBP should make public any further information and actions pursuant to the new WRO. Though the action is welcome, CBP did not disclose until today’s press conference that 43 actions had been taken pursuant to the XPCC WRO–information which is necessary to know whether the WROs are being enforced. Other lasting reforms include more robust enforcement of the Tariff Act (1307) and passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (previously H.R. 6210 and S. 3471). 

These systematic abuses run through supply chains that touch nearly every nation that buys not only cotton- and tomato-based goods but strategic higher value supply chains that are growing such as the solar energy industry. The incoming Biden administration must act quickly to block imports of solar products that contain polysilicon made with forced labor; these products can have no place in our efforts to fight climate change.  

Action by the United States is vital but other nations and markets need to unite in rejecting profits at the expense of widespread grave human and labor rights abuses. The U.K. and Canada have recently made some efforts and need to do more on the issue but the European Union has been inconsistent. Within a two-week period last month, the EU issued a resolution calling on China and Western corporations to address the grave problems and then concluded negotiating an EU-China Investment Agreement that includes no mechanism to address those violations of labor and human rights that start in the Uyghur Region but permeate all of China, third countries producing in supply chains and markets everywhere.

Contact: Gonzalo Salvador (202) 637-5018