US UFLPA Sets Standard for the World to Follow
By Rushan Abbas.
Rushan Abbas is the founder & executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs.
After years of effort from Uyghurs and other human rights and labor rights organizations, the United States will begin enforcing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) this Tuesday, June 21st. The UFLPA passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed by President Biden in December, 2021. This legislation is sweeping. It tracks raw material to the source–East Turkistan, known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region by China, which is waging active genocide on my people. Uyghur forced labor has become pervasive, especially in the apparel industry. 20% of the world’s cotton supply comes from the Uyghur Region, and 45% of global polysilicon production.
This landmark legislation sends a powerful message that there are perpetrators and there are accomplices. China is the perpetrator. All governments, corporations, politicians and celebrities who stand by China are accomplices. In December 2021, a people’s independent tribunal in the UK determined that the Uyghur human rights atrocities to overwhelmingly meet the standard for genocide.
The UFLPA requires companies to provide clear and convincing evidence that their products are not being imported from the Uyghur Region, where millions of Uyghurs are held in concentration camps and forced labor. Goods that do not comply with the law will be seized at the border and confiscated.
This significant piece of legislation shows it matters if our products are made with slave labor. My sister, Gulshan Abbas, who was put into prison by China’s totalitarian regime to punish an Uyghur-American for speaking out against the CCP’s genocidal policies, could be making your shirt. Famous Uyghur writers, professors, philanthropists, and pop-stars could be picking your cotton. The coercive threat of being sent to a camp or having your family detained means Uyghurs can never truly answer the question “are you free?”
Shifting the burden of proof from the consumer onto the company, the UFLPA shows companies that it is intolerable for them to run overseas and shirk their moral obligation to vet their sources. They have an ethical–and now legal–responsibility to prove that their products are not made with Uyghur blood, sweat and tears.
Uyghurs in the diaspora spent years calling out famous name brands demanding they show proof they are not using slave labor. Few have offered such proof. My homeland is a bread basket, a fertile region where dates, tomatoes and cotton are shipped around the world and quartz is mined for solar panels, profiting the regime. But a date does not taste sweet if someone is harvesting them under a whip and chain. And cotton does not feel soft knowing it was picked by someone held at gunpoint in case they tried to flee after forced sterilization and abortion.
I show tremendous gratitude towards the United States in implementing this Act, since Michelle Bachelet, the UN chief of human rights, recently parroted Beijing’s whitewashing and lies, insulting my numerous relatives, neighbors and friends all locked into camps for merely existing. Her visit proved a painful jab, and so it is with great celebration that we welcome this Act.
Requiring companies to prove they do not have raw materials from my homeland hits China where it hurts the most: their wallet. This Act sends a clear message that the US refuses to profit off of forced child separation, torture and atrocities, forced sterilization, and mass rape. This shall not be tolerated!
In May, the “Xinjiang Police Files” were published. They were the most unprecedented visual leak of their kind, releasing 2,884 pictures of men and women of all ages taken away to concentration camps, in addition to documents and statements instructing police to shoot and kill anyone who tried to escape. For years, China denied the existence of these camps. Then they called them “education training centers” after overwhelming evidence of satellite images and victims’ testimonies. Their own leaked documents prove these camps are far from voluntary or educational.
No item should ever enter US ports that are made exploitatively. Canada and the EU are considering similar legislation to ban Uyghur forced labor from entering their markets. All other nations should act similarly. We do not have the luxury of waiting.