U.S. Bans Xinjiang Cotton Products, Tomatoes Over Forced Labor

  • .S. imported $9 billion of cotton products in past year
  • ‘Made in China’ is a ‘warning label,’ Cuccinelli says

The move is the latest in a series of actions where the U.S. is raising pressure on China over some companies’ alleged ill-treatment of workers. The U.S. says the Chinese government has detained more than 1 million Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in “re-education” internment camps, allegations that the Foreign Ministry in Beijing denies.

“Forced labor is a form of modern slavery,” Acting Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli said on a call with reporters Wednesday. “‘Made in China’ doesn’t just indicate country of origin — it’s a warning label.”

The goods to be detained at U.S. ports of entry in the so-called withhold-release order, or WRO, following the CBP investigation include apparel, textiles, tomato seeds, canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce, Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said. The WRO will also apply to products manufactured in other countries that use cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang, he said.

For more background on the Uighurs, read this QuickTake

The action is a blow for the U.S. clothing industry, given that one-fifth of the world’s cotton comes from the region. The U.S. imported $9 billion of cotton products in the past year and $10 million of tomatoes from China, said Brenda Smith, the executive assistant commissioner in the office of trade at CBP.

The ban is “very significant,” AAFA President and CEO Steve Lamar said in an emailed response to questions. “All companies that use cotton in their supply chains need to take notice.” The association represents more than 590 firms.

In September, CBP said it planned WROs covering all cotton, textile and tomato products from the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region. CBP has already issued WROs against three Xinjiang-based hair-product and garment producers in 2020.

Read more: U.S. Raises China Pressure With More Bans Planned

In December, the U.S.-based Center for Global Policy published a report alleging new evidence from Chinese government documents and media reports of hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in Xinjiang being forced to pick cotton by hand through coercive state-mandated labor.

President-elect Joe Biden has labeled China’s mass detention and re-education program for Xinjiang’s Uighur minority as “genocide” and called for an international effort to make a united stand against the campaign.

In addition to ensuring targeted enforcement, the incoming administration should consider a “whole-of-world” approach to align the U.S.’s allies on ending forced labor in Xinjiang, the AAFA’s Lamar said.

“It is important that this is be a coordinated effort to ensure that products made with forced labor are not sent into China for domestic consumption or used elsewhere in the world,” he said.

— With assistance by Kitty Donaldson

(Updates with comment from AAFA president in seventh paragraph.)