A bipartisan crackdown on Chinese forced labor has put Western corporations on notice—and could pave the way for Washington to finally support the International Criminal Court.
Forced labor has gotten new attention as part of China’s horrific repression of its Uighur minority in Xinjiang, which also includes cultural genocide, imprisonment, and torture. A number of investigations and reports from the region have shed light on state-sponsored forced-labor camps, with the number of camps only growing with time. Numbers are hard to come by, but human rights organizations estimate that up to 1.5 million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic minorities are being detained in as many as 1,000 concentration camps across Xinjiang.
The beneficiaries of China’s abysmal human rights abuses include a long list of companies operating in the region, many of them suppliers to Western corporations. A report issued by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China in March included a list of companies “suspected of directly employing forced labor or sourcing from suppliers that are suspected of using forced labor,” including Adidas, Coca-Cola, Costco, H&M, Kraft Heinz, Nike, and Patagonia.
With human rights in China one of the few topics on which there is bipartisan agreement in the United States, the U.S. House of Representatives in September passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act of 2020 and the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act with almost unanimous support. Both bills seek to address the growing use of forced labor in global supply chains. While the first would require U.S.-based companies to provide quarterly reports of operations in the Xinjiang region, the second would expose companies to criminal proceedings should forced labor be found in their supply chains.