A bipartisan Congressional commission said Wednesday that China is forcing Uighurs and other minorities to work against their will in detention centers and factories in Xinjiang in the far West, and called for a halt of U.S. imports from the entire region.
The newly introduced Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act says the ban is needed because forced labor has contaminated the entire 640,000 square mile Xinjiang region, making it impossible to fairly audit factories where workers can't speak freely.
Over the past four years, the Chinese government has detained more than a million people from Xinjiang, most of them Uighurs, in internment camps and prisons where they are subjected to ideological and behavioral requirements. China has long suspected the Uighurs, who are mostly Muslim, of harboring separatist tendencies because of their distinct culture, language and religion.
In recent reports, The Associated Press and other news organizations have repeatedly found that people inside the internment camps and prisons, places activists call “black factories," are making products for popular brands including Adidas, Costco and Tommy Hilfiger. The Congressional Commission released a report Wednesday citing 20 businesses.
Most recently AP reported that Uighurs are also being outsourced across the country to a sprawling Chinese factory in Nanchang that turns out computer screens, cameras and fingerprint scanners for a supplier to international tech giants such as Apple and Lenovo.
All U.S. firms that responded to requests for comment said they don't allow labor abuse in their supply chains and that they were investigating. Some have since halted imports from suspected Uighur-staffed factories.
Chinese authorities say they are not abusing Uighurs and that job training is voluntary.
Federal law already bans the import of products made by people who are being forced to work. Customs and Border Protection, the agency responsible for enforcing the law, halted several shipments from a Xinjiang factory last year. Lawmakers are now calling for a halt on imports of all products made in the entire area, home to some 23 million people.