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President Biden signed his Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act into law on Thursday.
The law, introduced in 2020 by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), stipulates that no goods made with slave labor from Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province will make it to the U.S., according to a press release from Rubio’s office.
“This is the most important and impactful action taken thus far by the United States to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for their use of slave labor,” Rubio said. “It will fundamentally change our relationship with Beijing. This law should also ensure that Americans no longer unknowingly buy goods made by slaves in China. I look forward to working with the Biden Administration and my colleagues to ensure the new law is implemented correctly and enforced properly.”
The Senate unanimously passed the legislation in July, but it then got held up in the House. In October, reports said that the Biden administration was telling lawmakers to slow down with the bill.
Josh Rogin, a columnist for The Washington Post wrote in an op-ed early this month,
Administration sources confirmed that in an October call between Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the other co-sponsor, Sherman made it clear that the administration prefers a more targeted and deliberative approach to determining which goods are the products of forced labor. She also told Merkley that getting allied buy-in was critical and more effective than unilateral action.
“To be clear, the Department of State is not opposing this amendment,” a State Department spokesman told me. “We share the Congress’ concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang.”
In other words, while the administration supports the legislation in public, they are asking Democrats to essentially water it down in private. Sherman’s specific criticism relates to a part of the bill that would require a presumption that all products coming from Xinjiang are tainted by forced labor unless the importer can prove otherwise. This happens to be the exact provision corporations are also objecting to. Maybe it’s a coincidence.
The House finally passed a revised version of the bill on December 8, a passage that was praised by Rubio. The Senate passed the revised bill on December 16.
“For those who are not familiar with it at this point, [the bill] basically says that you can’t import products into the United States that are made by slave labor in Xinjiang, or from entities that are associated with the government of that region,” Rubio said in a Senate floor speech. “And if you’re a company who is manufacturing in that area, you’re going to need to prove that slaves didn’t make it. The presumption is on you.”
“It’s already illegal, by the way, to bring goods made with slave labor; it’s been that way since the 1930s. And yet it’s still happening,” he continued. “And we know it’s happening at an alarming, horrific rate with the genocide that we now witness being carried out by the Chinese government in the Xinjiang region. And this bill, which we hope here in a few moments passes today, will head to the President, become law, and it will help tremendously in stopping that from happening.”