A Presumption of Forced Labor

Years of reports and condemnations of alleged Chinese human rights abuses of the Muslim population in its Xinjiang province bore fruit as President Joe Biden signed into law the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

The measure is designed to make it harder for Chinese and American companies to profit from forced labor in Xinjiang and other parts of China.

For the first time, U.S. government agencies will work on the presumption that forced labor is used to make Chinese goods, and compel businesses to certify that their production methods are not based on such inhumanity.

The bill was first introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), along with Representatives Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) in 2020.

Among the commodities that may be affected by the law are raw cotton, gloves, tomato products, silicon and viscose, fishing gear and components in solar energy.

The bill follows sanctions imposed earlier this month for rights abuses in China, Myanmar, North Korea and Bangladesh.

China’s embassy in Washington denounced the U.S. move as “serious interference in China’s internal affairs” and a “severe violation of basic norms governing international relations,” according to Reuters.

This is the Communist regime’s version of transparency: not a structure that outsiders may freely examine, but a transparent facade behind which crimes against humanity are perpetrated in the name of a long discredited ideology.

That Beijing isn’t happy about the U.S. action was to be expected. Par for the course.

As China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said last week, “So-called forced labor and other allegations on Xinjiang are completely lies concocted by anti-China forces.”

Naturally, foreign media are not permitted by the Chinese authorities to come and observe for themselves what goes on in Xinjiang and report on it without censorship. That, too, would be an interference in internal affairs. The kind of internal affairs that they don’t want the outside world to see.

American corporations, such as Intel, Nike and Apple, who have operations in the regions in question, sought to block the legislation, claiming that they know of no forced labor in their factories.

As Sen. Rubio said, “A lot of big companies are lobbying against this bill. They’re not going to admit it. … Who’s going to admit they’re lobbying for slave labor?”

Recently, when Intel stepped out of line, it got swatted down by the bosses in Beijing. The company made the mistake of asking suppliers to avoid sourcing goods from Xinjiang due to reports of persecution of the Muslim minority by the Communist Party.

Intel, in shameful subservience, issued a statement saying, “We apologize for the trouble caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public.”

The only surprise really is that Intel, knowing the ruling party’s attitude toward criticism, dared to insinuate that anything might be awry in Xinjiang in the first place.

The intentions of Congress and the Biden administration are praiseworthy. Even if nothing can be done to make China desist from such cruelties, which have drawn accusations of not only rights abuses but of genocide, it is inconceivable that American businesses and consumers should be accomplices. No American government can remain passive in such a situation.

To be a fit trading partner, to be a respected member of the civilized world, China has to behave in a manner worthy of respect.

However, we must also be realistic about how effective the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act will be.

It may no more deter Beijing than Washington’s diplomatic boycott of the coming Winter Olympics in the Chinese capital, citing China’s “egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang.” U.S. athletes will be allowed to compete there, but the President and other U.S. dignitaries will not travel to the games, which open in February.

Chinese leaders, however offended, are not the type to order an end to the horrors in Xinjiang just because the despised American leaders won’t come to their gala event.

Chinese authorities have made clear they will not cooperate with the new law; and the American companies there are completely cowed, afraid to do or say anything that might irritate their sensitive hosts.

While the U.S. cannot realistically demand of its trading partners that they conform to every American standard of freedom and dignity, a line has to be drawn somewhere, and Xinjiang is as good a place as any to draw it.

America cannot control China, but it can control our own business enterprises. So that they, and the American people, have as little as possible to do with promoting the systematic trampling of the rights of others.