Over the past three years, China has been under suspicion and condemnation for detaining and abusing more than one million Uyghurs, a Muslim Turkic ethnic group originating from Central and East Asia, in internment camps in Xinjiang. Though they are called “reeducation centers” by the Chinese government, there are various testimonies that detainees have been subject to torture and forced labor in the camps. However, Beijing denies all accusations of mistreatment; in fact, the Chinese embassy described the accusation of forced labor as a “political lie concocted by some US politicians.”
Over concerns of forced labor of Uyghurs, a couple weeks ago, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that the US had banned imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang. The CBP explained that China’s exploitation of forced labor to import goods below market value is a direct violation of human rights and will not be tolerated.
The ban on imports of cotton affected a major part of the US clothing industry. The US imported 9 billion dollars of cotton products in the past year from China, 85 percent of which was produced in Xinjiang. China is also the world’s largest tomato producer, exporting 10 million dollars of tomatoes to the US this past year, as well as accounting for about 40 percent of all tomato paste exports. The widespread use of these Chinese products has made it difficult for firms, attempting to become independent of imports from China that go against their human rights standards and ethics, to identify which of their cotton and other products are from Xinjiang.
This is not the first time that the US has warned and imposed sanctions on China for alleged human rights violations and forced labor. Last July, the US issued a warning to businesses regarding the risks of forced labor in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government was targeting Uyghurs and other minority groups. In December, before the CBP’s official restriction, the Trump Administration announced a ban on cotton products made by the Xinjiang Production and Constructions Corps, a group that produces most of the region’s cotton. In addition to the US, other countries such as Britain and Canada have recently introduced regulations that limit the products from Xinjiang arriving into their countries. However, President Biden still calls for an international effort to unite against China’s human rights violations and calls the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang a “genocide.”
China’s government also has strict restrictions on foreign journalists and reporters, and as a result there has been less media coverage on the events occurring in Xinjiang. Furthermore, governments have been slow to act on the crisis, being reticent to take an outspoken stand against China’s actions.
The US has acknowledged Xinjiang’s unjust practices of exporting cotton, tomatoes, and other materials below market value at the cost of basic human rights. However, Xinjiang constitutes a major part of US cotton and tomato imports, resulting in the US economy taking a significant hit. As time goes on, it will quickly become evident whether the US can handle and enforce such a wide ban and trace all of the Xinjiang materials through their supply chains.
Edited by the Spokesman Editorial Staff