The Trump administration says its sanctions on Chinese companies that use slave labor could have a quarter-billion-dollar impact.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, said the action will affect up to $250 million worth of goods that come from the Xinjiang region, according to The Washington Free Beacon.
The department announced Monday that it issued five so-called withhold release orders targeting products and cotton made at five specific Chinese companies and locations.
The orders allow U.S. officials to hold shipments based on suspicion that the products violate U.S. laws to combat human trafficking, child labor and other human rights abuses. To get those shipments released, companies must prove no forced labor was used in making the products.
Cuccinelli indicated that a broader, regional ban on cotton harvested through slave labor was under consideration.
The Trump administration says the goods targeted in the new order are produced by the forced labor of Muslim Uighurs.
“These extraordinary human rights violations demand an extraordinary response,” Cuccinelli said, according to The New York Times. “This is modern-day slavery.”
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said companies in the region do not use forced labor.
“This fully exposes the hypocritical faces and sinister intentions of those in the U.S. hoping to curb Xinjiang’s development and progress and sow Chinese ethnic dissension,” he said.
Cuccinelli said disruption is sometimes necessary.
“This order is intended to disrupt trade,” he said. “The president strongly believes the American people are more than supportive of absorbing those sorts of disruptions in exchange for being able to interrupt the use of slave labor.”
The Uyghur Human Rights Project is seeking to have all cotton products from the region banned in the U.S. and has drafted a petition seeking such a step.
“The system of forced labor is so extensive that there is reason to believe that most cotton-based products linked to the Uyghur Region are a product wholly or in part of forced labor,” the petition read.
📰 PRESS RELEASE 📰
— Uyghur Human Rights Project (@UyghurProject) September 16, 2020
Cuccinelli said the action fights slave labor while protecting Americans.
“By taking this action, DHS is combating illegal and inhumane forced labor, a type of modern slavery, used to make goods that the Chinese government then tries to import into the United States. When China attempts to import these goods into our supply chains, it also disadvantages American workers and businesses,” he said, according to a news release on the DHS website.
“President Trump and this Department have, and always will, put American workers and businesses first and protect American citizens from participating in these egregious human rights violations,” he said.
Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said the actions illustrate America’s broad commitment to human rights.
“The Trump Administration will not stand idly by and allow foreign companies to subject vulnerable workers to forced labor while harming American businesses that respect human rights and the rule of law,” he said in a statement.
“Today’s withhold release orders send a clear message to the international community that we will not tolerate the illicit, inhumane, and exploitative practices of forced labor in U.S. supply chains,” he said.
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