US is 'rallying' allies against Xinjiang forced labour as ban takes effect, says Blinken

The US is rallying its allies to make global supply chains free from the use of forced labour, said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday (June 21) that the United States is rallying its allies against forced labour as it begins implementing a law that bans goods from China's Xinjiang region, where Washington says Beijing is committing genocide.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Tuesday begins enforcing the Uighur Forced Labour Prevention Act (UFLPA), which President Joe Biden signed into law in December.

CBP has said it is ready to implement the law's "rebuttable presumption" that all goods from Xinjiang, where Chinese authorities established detention camps for Uighurs and other Muslim groups, are made with forced labour and barred from import unless it can be proven otherwise.

The agency has said a very high level of evidence would be required for importers to receive an exception to the law.

"We are rallying our allies and partners to make global supply chains free from the use of forced labour, to speak out against atrocities in Xinjiang, and to join us in calling on the government of the PRC (People's Republic of China) to immediately end atrocities and human rights abuses," Mr Blinken said in a statement.

"Together with our inter-agency partners, we will continue to engage companies to remind them of US legal obligations," he said.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, a major cotton producer that also supplies much of the world's materials for solar panels.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said earlier in Beijing that claims of forced labour in Xinjiang were a "big lie concocted by anti-China forces".

"With this so-called law, the United States is trying to create forced unemployment in Xinjiang and to push for the world to decouple with China," Mr Wang said.

Beijing initially denied the existence of any detention camps, but then later admitted it had set up "vocational training centres" necessary to curb what it said was terrorism, separatism and religious radicalism in Xinjiang.

Last week, CBP issued a list of Xinjiang entities presumed to be using forced labour, which includes textile, solar-grade polysilicon, and electronics companies.

It has said imports from other countries would be banned if related supply chains include Xinjiang inputs.

The United States, Britain and other countries have called for the United Nations' International Labour Organisation to set up a mission to probe alleged labour abuses in Xinjiang.

Human rights groups and trade associations that support US domestic producers have warned that Xinjiang inputs could find their way into solar imports from other countries, given the difficulty of verifying supply chains in China.  

Earlier in June, Mr Biden waived tariffs on solar panels from four South-east Asian nations, which Coalition for a Prosperous America said showed his administration was not serious about cracking down on forced labour.  

CBP could need two years to ramp up enforcement, the breadth of the task making it potentially more difficult than the post-9/11 effort to track terror financing, said Mr Alan Bersin, a former CBP commissioner who is now executive chairman of supply chain technology company Altana AI.

“It comes close to panic in C-suites all across the country where huge enterprises really don’t have visibility into their supply chains aside from the direct supplier,” he said.

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