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CEO DATELINE – Business groups: Proposed ban targeting Uyghur forced labor misses the mark

Sept. 23, 2020
By Walt Williams

Multiple associations are urging lawmakers to reject legislation that would restrict imports from a region of China where the minority Uyghur population is being forced to work in factories, saying that such a ban would have unintended consequences.

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The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the U.S. House of Representatives would prohibit certain imports from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China and impose sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations there. Chinese authorities have reportedly imprisoned more than 1 million Uyghur in “re-education” camps in Xinjiang and forced them to work in factories that produce goods sold in the U.S. and around the world. Critics allege the treatment of the Uyghurs is a form of ethnic cleansing.

In a joint statement, four associations representing the retail and apparel industries said that while what is happening in Xinjiang is “of great concern to our entire industry,” the proposed legislation is the wrong approach.

The bill “would establish a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ blanket standard, directly contradicting U.S. jurisprudence and due process, branding anything and everything associated with XUAR (Xinjiang) as made with forced labor,” the associations said. “Such an approach would do further harm to human rights, economic development, legitimate supply chains, and will jeopardize the livelihoods of millions of workers worldwide without specifically addressing human rights concerns.”

The groups instead urged collaborative engagement with China that would engage all stakeholders in the affected industry. The American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association and U.S. Fashion Industries Association signed the statement.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce had similar concerns about the legislation and a related House bill, the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act of 2020. The business group said that while it condemns the treatment of the Uyghurs, the bills “prove ineffective and may hinder efforts to prevent human rights abuses.” The group pointed to past attempts by the U.S. to restrict “conflict minerals” mined the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“The absence of a qualified inspection and audit systems made it nearly impossible for companies to ensure accurate disclosures,” the Chamber said. “This in turn caused many companies to implement a de facto embargo against material sourced in the region which then hurt legitimate miners.”

The Chamber said it instead wants to work with Congress and the administration “to ensure that workable, appropriate actions and initiatives are implemented to aid the Uyghurs.”

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