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Mike Pompeo, Sec State © Gints Ivuskans Dreamstime

State Department: Chinese Suppliers Using Forced Labor

July 2, 2020
The State Department issued an advisory for U.S. firms with supply chain members in Xinjiang and other regions of China.

U.S. Department of State issued a notice cautioning U.S. businesses with supply chains in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China of associating with “entities that engage in human rights abuses, including forced labor.”

The Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory, issued July 1 by the State Department, specifically refers to the Chinese government’s actions in the Xinjiang region as they relate to the local minority Muslim populations. “The People’s’ Republic of China (P.R.C.) government continues to carry out a campaign of repression in Xinjiang, targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups,” it reads.

In remarks delivered accompanying the advisory, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that China was using members of persecuted groups to supply forced labor, and supplying that forced labor to private companies. “The People’s Republic of China’s use of forced labor is no longer confined to the Xinjiang region but is increasingly taking place across China through PRC government-facilitated arrangements with private sector manufacturers,” he said.

The advisory identified several types of businesses that might be found complicit with Chinese human rights violations, including companies supplying surveillance technology to the Chinese government in Xinjiang, companies building internment facilities or factories near internment facilities, and companies relying on labor or goods sourced to Xinjiang.

Although the State Department does not name any American companies, Keith Krach, the Undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, sent a letter to several large companies, including Walmart, Apple, and Amazon. The advisory, he wrote, would “help shine the light of transparency” on supply chain operations in Xinjiang for U.S. companies.

“This light of transparency will help U.S. manufacturing and technology companies that do business anywhere in China ensure their commerce and investments do not enable or perpetuate the PRC’s human rights abuses,” wrote Krach.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Adidas AG, Kraft Heinz Co., Coca-Cola Co., and Gap Inc. are all among global manufacturers with supply chains that move through Xinjiang. In March 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute issued a report that named 83 companies that “directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uygher workers outside Xinjiang.” The report estimated that 80,000 Uyghurs have been transferred out of Xinjiang to at least 27 factories across China since 2017.

According to the Chinese government, allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang of Muslim minorities are false: the “internment camps,” they say, are actually vocational training centers. According to the U.S. State Department, the facilities are focused predominantly on Muslim minorities and use social control, threats, and continuous surveillance to force those in them to work, primarily at “low-skilled, labor intensive industries.” The U.S. also says there are “credible reports of mass transfers of Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups from Xinjiang to factories across China,” where they’re kept under surveillance and made to produce “garments, electronics, and automobiles.”

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