Amid global outcry, U.S. expands push to stop forced labor in Xinjiang

Group of people walking among solar panels near mountainous area (© Costfoto/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)
People inspect a solar power plant in Xinjiang on January 24. The U.S. government is blocking import of certain products used in solar panels due to evidence of forced labor in Xinjiang. (© Costfoto/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

The United States is expanding efforts to remove forced labor from global supply chains amid growing international condemnation of the People’s Republic of China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang.

On June 24, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued what is known as a “Withhold Release Order” against the Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. Ltd. based on evidence the Xinjiang-based company uses forced labor. The order blocks import of Hoshine’s silica-based products, which are used to make solar panels, electronics and other goods.

“The United States will not tolerate modern-day slavery in our supply chains,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said. The CBP order is part of our continued commitment “to protect human rights and international labor standards and promote a more fair and competitive global marketplace.”

The United States and 43 other countries in a recent statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council urged the PRC to allow independent observers unrestricted access to Xinjiang, adding that they are “gravely concerned about the human rights situation” in the region, including forced labor.

The joint statement delivered by Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Leslie E. Norton June 22 cited the arbitrary detention of more than 1 million people, mass surveillance and reports of torture, forced sterilization and other degrading treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority group members.

New U.S. efforts to deter forced labor also follow President Biden and other Group of Seven (G7) leaders’ June 13 pledge to remove products made with forced labor from global supply chains and take other actions to stop Beijing’s human rights abuses. The G7 nations are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“The United States believes that state-sponsored forced labor in Xinjiang is both an affront to human dignity and an example of the PRC’s unfair economic practices,” the White House said in a June 24 statement.

The U.S. departments of Labor and Commerce are joining CBP in taking steps to deter forced labor in Xinjiang. On June 24, Commerce added five companies that use forced labor in Xinjiang, including the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, to its Entity List, which blocks those companies from receiving U.S. software, technology or other goods, without special approval.

The Department of Labor added polysilicon produced in the PRC to the “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor,” which warns companies that buy listed goods they risk supporting forced labor.

These steps build on previous U.S. actions to deter the PRC’s use of forced labor, ranging from the CBP’s blocking all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang from entering the United States to adding dozens of companies connected to human rights abuses to the Entity List.

“We will continue to work with our partners and allies to promote accountability for the PRC government’s use of forced labor as well as its genocide and crimes against humanity,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on June 24. “We stand with our allies around the world in calling for an immediate end to the PRC’s crimes and for justice for the many victims.”