By Ateet Sharma
New Delhi, Dec 7 : The tussle between corporate greed and human rights in Xinjiang has come into sharp focus inside the United States. A number of American companies have recently attracted sharp criticism from Uyghur activists all over the world for making desperate attempts to weaken the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a bill in the United States Congress which imposes various restrictions related to Chinas Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region, including by prohibiting certain imports from Xinjiang and imposing sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations there.
The US Department of Homeland Security had announced earlier this week that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel at country’s all ports of entry will detain shipments containing cotton and cotton products originating from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) where the Chinese government is engaged in systemic human rights abuses against the Uyghur people and other ethnic and religious minorities.
This, however, hasn’t convinced many Chinese dissidents, including exiled artist Badiucao currently living in Australia, who are enraged with recent revelations in the US media that some major multinational companies are “lobbying” to weaken the bill which wouldn’t allow goods manufactured or produced in Xinjiang to enter the United States unless CBP determines that they were not manufactured by convict labour, forced labour, or indentured labour.
The New York Times had reported a few days ago that the legislation has become the target of business groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce and major companies like Nike, Coca-Cola and Apple whose supply chains touch the far western Xinjiang region. The report said that lobbyists have “fought to water down” some of bill’s provisions as it could wreak havoc on supply chains that are deeply embedded in China.
Satirical Chinese dissident artist, known by his pseudonym Badiucao, took to Twitter by posting online artwork to express his anger against the US companies lobbying against the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and “supporting China’s Uyghur genocide via using XJ cotton”.
Washington-based Campaign For Uyghurs (CFU), a non-profit organization which advocates for the democratic rights and freedoms of the Uyghur people, said that the latest confirmation reveals further evidence of the work that remains to be done to hold businesses accountable.
“It’s like a slap in the face to me. My sister is missing, detained by the Chinese regime, and likely being forced to work as a slave in one of the facilities that companies like Apple are relying on to produce their products. My sister, a retired medical doctor, is being forced to make your iPhone, and why? All because she is Uyghur and her sister speaks out against genocide. Apple’s decision is direct, despicable complicity in genocide,” stated CFU Executive Director Rushan Abbas.
Earlier this year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had also condemned the Chinese government for coercing tens of thousands of Uighur and other Muslims to work in textile factories. Citing the Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s report ‘Global supply chains, forced labor and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’, the USCIRF had welcomed the introduction of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the House.
“The Chinese government has compounded its mistreatment of Uighur and other Muslims by forcing them to work in factories. We urge all American companies, including Amazon, Nike, Apple, and Calvin Klein, to conduct a thorough investigation of their supply chains in China and cease any operations if they cannot definitively rule out the use of forced labor,” said USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer.
Various Uyghur groups and human rights advocates also point out that the continuous repression by the Xi Jinping regime, surveillance and heightened security measures have ensured that companies or auditors have no reliable means to get credible information about conditions in their supply chains.
“Between 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples have been put in camps in China. Many of these camps are connected to cotton and clothing production facilities where Uyghur detainees are forced to work, which are major global sources of both cotton and clothing production. Virtually, the entire clothing industry is potentially implicated. For those companies sourcing cotton or finished products from companies operating in the Uyghur Region, the only way to prevent Uyghur forced labour in their supply chains is to exit the region,” says Zumretay Arkin of the World Uyghur Congress.
Since July, over 290 organisations from more than 35 countries have supported a call on the global apparel industry to do just that: to disengage from the Uyghur Region in order to meet their corporate responsibility to respect human rights under the United Nations Guiding Principles.
This week’s Withhold Release Order (WRO) issued against cotton products made by the XPCC is based on information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labour, including convict labour in China. The WRO applies to all cotton and cotton products produced by the XPCC and its subordinate and affiliated entities as well as any products that are made in whole or in part with or derived from that cotton, such as apparel, garments, and textiles.
The WRO on XPCC cotton products is the sixth enforcement action that CBP has announced in the past three months against goods made by forced labour from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In July 2020, the U.S. Government issued an advisory to caution businesses about the risks of forced labour in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government continues to execute a campaign of repression targeting the Uyghur people and other ethnic and religious minority groups.
“The human rights abuses taking place at the hands of the Chinese Communist government will not be tolerated by President Trump and the American people,” said DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. “DHS is taking the lead to enforce our laws to make sure human rights abusers, including U.S. businesses, are not allowed to manipulate our system in order to profit from slave labour. ‘Made in China’ is not just a country of origin it is a warning label.”
“China’s systemic abuse of forced labour in the Xinjiang Region should disturb every American business and consumer,” added CBP Acting Commissioner Mark A. Morgan. “Forced labour is a human rights violation that hurts vulnerable workers and introduces unfair competition into global supply chains. CBP will continue taking decisive action to prevent goods made with forced labour from entering the United States.”
The Donlald Trump administration, in its final weeks, has intensified attacks on Beijing. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, John Ratcliffe, the US Director of National Intelligence, said that China is the biggest threat to democracy and freedom since the Second World War.
“The intelligence is clear: Beijing intends to dominate the US and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically. Many of China’s major public initiatives and prominent companies offer only a layer of camouflage to the activities of the Chinese Communist Party. I call its approach of economic espionage rob, replicate and replace. China robs US companies of their intellectual property, replicates the technology and then replaces the US firms in the global marketplace,” wrote Ratcliffe in the article which the Chinese Foreign Ministry said “serves no purpose at all other than repeating lies and rumours, making China look as ugly as possible and trumpeting ‘China threat’ as loud as possible.”
Quite clearly, unlike the outgoing government, some of the US multinational companies who rely heavily on China for business, are blowing their own trumpet.
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Disclaimer: This story is auto-generated from IANS service.