'Warning Label': U.S. Officially Bans All Cotton Imports From China's Xinjiang Province, Citing Forced Labor
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced yesterday that it would seize all cotton products produced in China’s Xinjiang province due to the Chinese government’s oppression of the region’s Uighur Muslim minority. The vast majority of China’s cotton exports originate in Xinjiang.
CBP said that it has sufficient information to indicate that China uses forced labor in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, and hopes that this economic measure could work toward ending that practice.
“The goal isn’t just to interdict shipments, that’s actually the fallback plan,” Acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told ABC News. “The goal of the [Withhold Release Order] is that they stop and that the shipments never arrive—the ultimate goal is that China abandons these horrific practices.”
Reports have shown that hundreds of thousands of the region’s Uighur Muslims are “forced to pick cotton by hand via state-mandated labor,” and human rights experts estimate that there are between 1 and 3 million Uighurs and Kazakhs being detained in about 1,300 facilities U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called “internment camps.”
This is the second Withhold Release Order CBP has placed on products coming from Xinjiang. The first applied only to cotton produced in specific part of Xinjiang Province.
“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Made in China does not just indicate a country of origin,” Cuccinelli told ABC. “It’s a warning label.”
The U.S. government can only do so much to limit unfair and dangerous manufacturing practices outside its borders. Ultimately, it falls on brands and even consumers to make responsible buying decisions. To this point, CBP Acting Commissioner Mark A. Morgan stressed the importance of due diligence when purchasing apparel made overseas.
“If you’re buying apparel and it’s considerably lower than the fair market value everywhere else, there’s a reason for that,” he told ABC. “Take a few minutes, understand where it’s coming from—is it coming from this region?”
Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, called the CBP’s decision “a high-decibel wake-up call to any apparel brand that continues to deny the prevalence and problem of forced-labor produced cotton from the Uighur region.”
Some high-profile brands have reportedly sourced apparel products from Xinjiang. A report from ASPI indicated that companies like Nike and Apple sourced cotton from these facilities.
This is already the fourth WRO that CBP has issued in the two weeks of 2021. The Xinjiang province was subject to eight of the 13 WROs that CBP issued last year total. All of them were related to the allegations of forced labor.