Will the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act matter? – Diplomat

Striking at the heart of slavery in northwest China, the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) has set Washington on a collision course with Beijing. At the same time, the act is fraught with loopholes and ambiguities, and failure to eliminate them can render it meaningless.

The legislation that It entered into force in the United States on June 21, suggests that all goods from Xinjiang were tainted by forced labor unless proven innocent. This requires importers to confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that their supply chains are clean. The new law could affect one million businesses around the world that buy and sell everyday goods, and the list of affected key industries runs into the thousands.

Companies around the world found themselves in a minefield of fine print when the US Department of Homeland Security embarked on its reliable mission “put an end to the disgusting practice of forced labor throughout the world”, especially in Xinjiang and its cotton, clothing, tomato and polysilicon industries. Identifying the culprits and their questionable supply chains while facilitating legitimate trade promises to be a Herculean task. DNA traceability testing, research into the provenance of raw materials, analysis of countless assembly operations and determining the extent of outsourcing are some of the issues that will need to be scrutinized by the reinforced border guard. mushroom when push starts.

But the new measures mean nothing without the cooperation of the democratic world. If Canada, Europe and other countries involved in the procurement refuse to take responsibility, the goods will simply be diverted and the new law will not have much impact on the situation.

Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedoms (IRF) from 2018 to 2021, speaking at a side event of this year’s IRF summit, wholeheartedly supported the law but called on the world to join it. According to him, Western companies “support China”, demanding that the world community “make a choice” and eradicate human rights violations in trade.

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Jew Ilham, daughter of imprisoned Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for separatism in 2014, pleaded with European companies at the same side event not to become a “dumping ground” for Uyghur forced labor. “There is clear and compelling evidence” of slavery, she stressed, calling for full supply chain transparency and courage to hold authorities and companies accountable.

But Canada, still holding on to a Xinjiang-specific trade law, could make or break the UFLPA, at least in the initial stages, notes Sara Teich, an international human rights lawyer based in Canada, who noted the dangers of goods banned in Xinjiang. The United States is simply rerouting through Canada, which has a free trade agreement with Washington. Teich noted that there were not enough opportunities for verification, and last year, although 1,400 products were diverted from US borders, this figure was only one for Canada. Canada will be a vital ally in making the legislation effective.

European Parliament while I completely agree to ban products of forced labor in its market still has to go through the European Commission’s gauntlet, and specific Uighur law has yet to be negotiated.

UFLPA, the latest in a catalog of U.S. efforts to prevent forced labor in its supply chains, comes out beyond the Tariff Act of 1930 in the ban on the importation of goods tainted by slavery and fulfills the US commitment in 2020 to ban the importation of goods produced using forced labor into the country. In particular, with regard to products originating in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China, where violations good labor practices are widespreadthe action focuses on the widely documented abuses perpetrated against Turkic peoples in the center of the Uyghurs.

Beijing’s policy in Xinjiang includes herding hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs. to factories and other forms of forced labor throughout China to produce goods for Western brands under the guise of fighting poverty and resettling ethnic minorities with the so-called “surplus labor force”. UFLPA reason to be, according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is to assume that “any goods, products, products and goods mined, produced or manufactured in whole or in part” in Xinjiang were manufactured using forced labor, “and that such goods, products, products and the goods are not eligible to enter the United States.”

Analyst firm Kharon has identified Xinjiang as a hub for raw materials of the world market, and thus many industries are inevitably linked to Uyghur forced labor. Twenty percent of the world’s cotton production, 40 percent of the world’s polysilicon for solar panels, and 13 percent of the world’s wind turbine production are produced in Xinjiang. Twenty-five percent of the world’s tomato paste, 11 percent of the world’s walnuts and 10 percent of the viscose also come from this region.

While the facts are clear and the need to curb human rights abuses in Beijing is undeniable, the implementation of the law is a gigantic undertaking that will likely not only significantly disrupt US imports, but threaten supply chains around the world. According to Michael Sobolik, a staff member at the American Council on Foreign Policy, the law was passed amid internal controversy and opposition. Speaking at an IRF side event, Sobolik said the UFLPA had struggled to navigate its way out of the US legislative quagmire and that its opponents “cared more about climate than human rights.”

According to Sobolik, the adoption of the law, although welcomed, was only the beginning. He predicted a rocky, contested road ahead. Western complicity in forced labor-corrupted supply chains is undeniable, but getting the US and other companies out of the labyrinth of forced labor complicity was another matter. Some companies may eventually decide what it will be. easier to move your business to another location. Some textile companies, for example, have already made the decision to phase out cotton from Xinjiang entirely and will source cotton from more remote areas, leaving 3 million tons of raw cotton to languish in factories. according to South China Morning Post.

International law firm Gibson Dunn noted that no stone will be left untouched in the implementation of the law, and that it will be strictly enforced. But their report, based on analysis consulting firm McKinsey & Company, illustrates the depth of detail that will be involved. For example, look at the number and variety of suppliers involved in the production of a car: 250 Tier 1 suppliers of thousands of components such as semiconductors, aluminum, glass, engines and seat fabrics, including 18,000 suppliers across the entire supply chain. . Separating forced labor from this complex and interconnected supply chain would be a laborious and possibly impossible task.

Solar panels are also on the radar of human rights activists and activists who have evidence supply chains riddled with Uyghur forced labor. CBP indicated in its report to Congress that “these silica-based products may include aluminum alloys, silicones, and polysilicon, which are themselves used in building materials, automobiles, oil, concrete, glass, ceramics, electronics, and other products.” in addition to solar panels. the responsibility will lie with the importers whose final products may contain any of these components, to be familiar with the entire supply chain – no matter how insignificant or seemingly insignificant the supplier’s contribution may be.

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In a statement late last week, Robert Silvers, US Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Policy and Chairman of the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force (FLETF), reiterated the US government’s disdain for imports of goods made using forced labor. describing them as “an insult to human rights and our national values”.

After passing legislation that he and Senator Jeff Merkley initiated, Senator Marco Rubio told the BBC that “Congress stands ready to work with President Biden and his administration to ensure the full and rigorous implementation of this historic law.”

“The strategy we’ve presented to Congress will lead to significant progress against forced labor as we continue to promote legitimate trade,” Rubio added.

Hayley Bird-Wilt, Associate Editor of The Dispatch, who just published in-depth analysis the process of passing the UFLPA, said that enforcing the act would be a giant undertaking. Addressing the IFR side event, Bird-Wilt noted that implementation, while key, will come with logistical challenges. Hundreds of additional staff would need to be hired, and she wondered if officials were ready for the expected 11 million shipments expected to be returned.

Speaking to the New York TimesAlan Bersin, former CBP commissioner, now executive chairman of Altana AI, a company that proud of himself about “reliable and resilient” supply chains, said the impact on both the US economy and the global economy would be measured in “many billions of dollars, not millions of dollars.”

“The public is not ready for what will happen,” he added.