As of June 21, the United States will implement the decision taken last December, which includes the seizure of Chinese productions with components from Xinjiang, a region where the Uyghur Muslim minority would be exploited. This situation is of great concern in the United States, as this region accounts for 20% of the world’s total cotton production.
On June 17, the US Congress published a list of procedures to be implemented under the UFLPA («Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act»). The new law tightens previous regulatory measures already taken by Washington, which reported nearly 1,000 seized shipments by the end of 2021 alone. The measures will be enforced by the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force, an authority before which importers must be able to justify that the goods have no link to Xinjiang.
This poses a problem for all companies working with Xinjiang, whether Uighurs are involved or not, Human Rights Watch says.
«For these companies, providing ‘clear and convincing evidence’ is an almost impossible task,» the agency estimates, which believes that Beijing contributes to their regret on this point.
«The extent of Chinese government surveillance and threats to workers and auditors currently prevents companies from meaningfully assessing the use of forced labor in factories or other facilities in Xinjiang (…). Companies with operations, suppliers or subcontractors in Xinjiang should instead relocate their facilities or supply chains elsewhere,» said URW.
Following the report published in early 2020 by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) on the situation of the Uyghurs, a second report published in December 2020 by the Center for Global Policy insisted especially on the weight of Xinjiang in the Chinese and international textile industry. Of the 23% of the world’s cotton production concentrated in China, 20% comes from the province which, moreover, is said to concentrate the best cotton varieties in the world. In the face of Western attempts to ban this cotton, a major difficulty arises: that of being able to trace these fibers in the Chinese industry.
This is because Xinjiang cotton massively supplies Chinese spinners, weavers and clothing manufacturers, who, in addition, can sometimes count on a labor force displaced from Xinjiang and confined in factories, sometimes surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers. These population displacements are taken over by the Chinese authorities, who even go so far as to broadcast the departure times for these «integration operations through work». For, while Beijing denies imprisonment, violence and forced sterilizations, the government clearly affirms its «efforts to eradicate poverty» in Xinjiang.
That’s why the new U.S. customs rule aims to impose itself forcefully and requires importers to submit a series of proofs. Starting with a complete mapping of the supply chain, including transportation, and the name of each entity involved. A challenge in the apparel sector, at a time when major brands still often struggle to provide a comprehensive list of their suppliers and who supplies them. Guarantees are also required on the origin, income and working hours of the workers involved, as well as on labor, production duration and total daily output. In addition, evidence is requested on the methods of recruitment of textile workers, since in order to attract textile companies, Xinjiang is reportedly building production plants in the vicinity of the internment camps.
The impact of these measures on the U.S. textile economy remains to be seen. In 2019, the United States imported $42.7 billion worth of textiles and apparel from China; the Asian giant thus accounted for 33.6 % of US imports. The question arises in the longer term for the European Union, where, of the 119 billion euros of textiles and clothing imported in 2019, 37 billion would come from China. Under the impetus of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Europe could, in turn, ban products from Xinjiang from September. However, this goal may well not be achieved in view of the lengthy parliamentary process required for the establishment of such a rule.