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Triple Pundit

AFL-CIO: Ban Imports from Forced Cotton Labor Plants

20% of the world's cotton comes from forced labor camps in China, AFL-CIO says ban their import

Brian Young's picture
Jan 18, 2021

The Uyghur region in China is the site of one of the world’s largest forced labor camps. These camps have an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs in them. Many have been sent there for “re-education” by the Chinese government without a trial. There has been a worldwide campaign to divest from the region, and now the AFL-CIO is calling on the Biden administration to join that divestment campaign.

This is not a new campaign for the AFL-CIO. For months they have been calling on the Trump administration to institute rules to prevent the import of goods from the region. Just last week, they finally listened and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) issued a regional withhold release order (WRO) to block cotton and tomato goods tainted by forced labor in the supply chain that started in the region.

While this is a good first step, the AFL-CIO is calling on the incoming Biden administration to do more. Some things that they say Biden can do include requiring robust enforcement of the order, funding CBP’s work on stopping these imports, and creating a comprehensive plan and oversight to deal with the imports from the region. They are warning Biden that relying on corporations to police themselves will not work.

A complicating factor in all of this is that 1 in 5 cotton garments sold globally contains cotton or yarn from the region. By the time a clothing product makes it to the United States border, it can be difficult to determine the origin of the cotton since it may have gone through numerous countries already. According to the AFL-CIO, the region is also building supply chains for strategic higher value items such as solar products. They are urging Biden to shut down US involvement in these supply chains before the region can gain a foothold in the international production of solar products.

Under US law it is illegal for the United States to allow entry of goods that are produced or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor, forced labor, or indentured labor.

“What matters now is effective enforcement of this WRO which should be a top priority of the incoming administration,” said AFL-CIO International Director Cathy Feingold. “We will also need to work with our allies, including the European Union and Canada, to ensure that together we build and implement a set of global rules that eliminate forced labor and uphold worker rights throughout supply chains.”

According to people who have left the region, Uyghurs face brainwashing, communist propaganda, beatings, and torture. Forced labor is used not only in the region to pick cotton, but an Australian Strategic Policy Institute report also found that from 2017 to 2019 more than 80,000 Uyghurs were shipped to other parts of the country to fill factory jobs.

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