A new U.S. law banning imports of products with ties to forced labor in China's Xinjiang Province goes into effect on Tuesday, which will impact a range of sectors including apparel, produce and solar panels. File Photo by Wu Hong/EPA-EFE
June 20 (UPI) -- A new law restricting imports from China's western Xinjiang Province goes into effect on Tuesday, giving U.S. customs officials broad authority to stop goods linked to forced labor of the region's mostly Muslim Uighur minority from entering the country.
Researchers say that an estimated 1 million Uighurs have been held in re-education camps in Xinjiang, where they are subject to abuses that include torture, forced labor and forced sterilization.
The White House has described China's treatment of the minority population as "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity."
Under the law, which Congress passed in December, U.S. customs agents will act under the presumption that goods made wholly or in part in Xinjiang, or produced by entities in China linked to forced labor, are not eligible to be imported.
High-priority sectors for enforcement include cotton, apparel, tomatoes and polysilicon -- a key material used in solar panels -- according to an enforcement strategy released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday.
"Our department is committed to ending the abhorrent practice of forced labor around the globe," DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. "We must combat these inhumane and exploitative practices while ensuring that legitimate goods can enter at our ports and reach American businesses and consumers as quickly as possible."
Mayorkas added that China "continues to systemically oppress and exploit Uighurs and other Muslim-majority communities" in Xinjiang.
Beijing has consistently denied any accusation of forced labor. Last week, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called the claim a "big lie made by anti-China forces." He added that the new U.S. law "is nothing but a pretext used by the U.S. side in an effort to seek political manipulation for the sheer purpose of destabilizing Xinjiang and containing China's development."
Products from Xinjiang will be allowed to enter the United States only if there is "clear and convincing evidence" that goods were not produced with forced labor -- with the burden of proof falling on importers, who must map their supply chains at every point from raw materials to finished goods.
In the run-up to the law taking effect, importers signaled their concerns about compliance. Brain Lowry, senior vice president of the advocacy group United States Council for International Business, said at an April public hearing that guidelines for enforcement were "opaque" and would hamper trade.
"Delays threaten business operations through cascading impacts on manufacturing, distribution and logistics," he said.
Rights groups, however, celebrated the law and pressed Washington to vigorously enforce it.
"The new U.S. law means it's no longer business as usual for companies profiting from forced labor in China, and Xinjiang especially," Jim Wormington, senior researcher for corporate accountability at Human Rights Watch, said Monday.
"It's vital for U.S. Customs to send a message to businesses, China, and the American public that the U.S. government will not ignore forced labor and crimes against humanity against the Uighur people," he said.