Dec 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

House votes to ban imports from Xinjiang over forced labor concerns

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The House voted 428-1 on Wednesday to pass a bill that would ban all imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang unless the U.S. government determines that the products were not made with forced labor.

Why it matters: Both the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as several foreign parliaments, have recognized China's repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as genocide.

  • Since 2017, the Chinese government has been engaged in a campaign of mass detention, forced labor, forced sterilization and other atrocities against Uyghurs.
  • The Biden administration warned earlier this year that businesses with supply chains and investments in Xinjiang run a "high risk" of violating U.S. laws on forced labor.
  • The sole lawmaker to vote against the bill was Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).

Details: The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and previously passed by the House in 2020, requires corporations to prove with "clear and convincing evidence" that imports from Xinjiang are not made with forced labor.

  • The bill also requires the president to impose sanctions on foreign entities and individuals that have "knowingly" facilitated forced labor involving Uyghurs and other persecuted minorities.
  • Within 90 days, the State Department must determine if the treatment of Muslim minorities constitutes crimes against humanity or genocide and outline strategies to address it.

Between the lines: It's already against U.S. law for companies to import products made through forced labor. But proving those conditions is often difficult, especially in Xinjiang, where auditors have faced harassment and Uyghurs may be unable to speak freely.

  • Products from the region are deeply integrated into lucrative global supply chains. Nike and Coca-Cola are among the major companies to have lobbied against the bill.
  • Xinjiang also accounts for nearly 50% of the world's polysilicon, a raw material used to manufacture solar panels.
  • John Smirnow, vice president of market strategy for the Solar Energy Industries Association, told Axios that his trade association of 1,000 member companies has been "very public" about pushing firms out of Xinjiang: "We are unequivocal in opposition to any use of forced labor."

What to watch: The Senate unanimously passed a similar version of the bill in July, but lawmakers will have to go to conference to reconcile some key differences.

  • It's unclear when the final bill will be sent to President Biden's desk, or whether he supports it.
  • The White House has denied allegations from Republicans that the administration has been lobbying against the bill because of how it will affect the U.S. climate change agenda.

What they're saying: “The House vote is a resounding declaration of the powerful bipartisan support for standing up against genocide and slave labor," Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, told Axios in a statement.

  • "The Senate and House have both passed strong versions of this legislation, and now we need to reconcile the bills and get this done."

The big picture: The House is also set to vote Wednesday on resolutions condemning the Uyghur genocide and the International Olympic Committee's handling of tennis player Peng Shuai's sexual assault allegations a former Chinese official.

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