Statement: Human rights, labour and investor organisations restate call for a Regional WRO, and press for transparency and robust enforcement

Chinese | 中文

On September 14, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced five new withhold release orders (WROs) in response to China’s widespread use of forced and prison labour in the Uyghur Region. These WROs are recognition that the advocacy of Uyghur groups, human rights organizations, trade unions and investors who have documented the use of forced labour in global supply chains linked to the Uyghur Region is paying off. However, the WROs remain far short of what is necessary to change the behavior not only of Beijing but of the companies that benefit from forced labour.

The Coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labour again calls on CBP to act on the abundant evidence that officials have indicated they have in hand, showing that forced labour taints the entire supply chain for cotton yarn, textiles and apparel, as well as tomatoes, tomato paste and other exports from the Uyghur Region. The Administration should proceed immediately with a Regional WRO to ensure that Chinese manufacturers, and the importers bringing their goods into the United States, cannot continue to dodge meaningful action while profiting from Uyghur forced labour.

It is important that all WROs be followed up with robust enforcement so corporations do not profit from forced labour via imports from the Region. In order to be effective, these measures must be accompanied by a comprehensive enforcement plan, sufficient funding and capacity building for CBP and provide for Congressional oversight.
Enforcement must include civil fines for importers and require purchase orders to specify that goods do not contain materials sourced from the affected Region or through companies that participate in the systemic repression of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples in China. While the textile and apparel industry has been the clearest concern—globally one in five cotton garments contain materials from the Region—other industries are also clearly implicated.

In July, over 200 human and labour rights and investor organizations launched a campaign, End Uyghur Forced Labour, calling on global corporations to divest from the Region and end their complicity in the egregious human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples in China. On August 28, human rights, labour and investor organizations urged CBP to issue a Regional withhold release order (WRO) on all cotton-made goods linked to the Xinjiang Region of China based on evidence of widespread forced labour. Under U.S. law 19 U.S.C. §1307, it is illegal for the United States to allow entry of goods, “produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labour or/and forced labour or/and indentured labour.” UK-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), along with the World Uyghur Congress, filed a companion petition with CBP based on a similar complaint filed with UK authorities earlier this year alleging widespread prison labour. UK law also prohibits the import of prison labour-made goods.

CBP must make good on its short-lived promise to issue a Regional WRO. Regardless, lasting change requires reform to the rules of Tariff Act enforcement (1307), passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (H.R. 6210 and S. 3471) and broad commitment by textile and apparel brands and retailers to sign on to the call to action launched by to end their supply chain relationships to materials and suppliers in the Region and companies participating in the systematic repression of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples.

“State-organized forced labour is the hallmark of the worst of the worst. It is past time for all governments to act. Uyghurs are trapped in an Orwellian nightmare with no escape. Companies and governments can no longer turn a blind eye.”
— Omer Kanat, Executive Director, Uyghur Human Rights Project

“No state or company should profit from forced labour, and a regional WRO would jolt the concerned companies and governments to long-overdue action to end complicity in systematic abuse against the Uyghur, Turkic and Muslim people in the Xinjiang Region. GLJ-ILRF has invoked the CBP mechanism since 2013 as a tool to improve the conditions of people in places outside the US. A regional order will only be effective in combating forced labour if enforced and followed with corporate action.”
— Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of Global labour Justice – International labour Rights Forum (GLJ – IRLF)

“If accompanied by a transparent and comprehensive enforcement plan—which has not yet been made clear—a regional WRO by the US authorities could serve to increase scrutiny on the UK and the EU whose markets are wide open to forced labour derived products from China and other locations. It serves as a reminder that they must make companies legally responsible for preventing forced labour in their supply chains”
— Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn, Director of the Global Legal Action Network, a legal NGO with offices in the UK and Ireland.

The organisations that filed 1307 petitions with the CBP on August 28 and the The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region stand ready to propose detailed guidance to CBP on an effective enforcement plan and to brief members of Congress on how to ensure that CBP can deliver on these enforcement goals.


Photo Credit: Marco Pregnolato on Unsplash