US President Joe Biden has signed a bill that will effectively ban imports from China's Xinjiang province, which are allegedly produced using forced labour of minorities, specifically Uyghur Muslims, which the US and rights groups have been held in detention camps in the region.
The bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent last week, bans imports of goods from the Xinjiang region unless individuals or companies demonstrate that the materials were made without forced labour, a report by The Hill said. It provides an option for proof that goods were not made using slave labour, barring imports if no proof is provided.
The legislation specifically targets materials like cotton, tomatoes, and polysilicon used in solar-panel manufacturing as "high priority" targets for enforcement. Xinjiang is known for manufacturing cotton. The US Customs and Border Protection agency estimated then that about $9 billion of cotton products and $10 million of tomato products were imported from China in the past year.
Senator Marco Rubio in a statement on Thursday said that the bill would ensure that Americans no longer bought goods produced through alleged slave labour blindly.
"[It is] the most important and impactful action taken thus far by the US to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for their use of slave labour," Rubio said. "It will fundamentally change our relationship with Beijing. I look forward to working with the Biden administration and my colleagues to ensure the new law is implemented correctly and enforced properly."
While the bill has been welcomed by US politicians, Doubts over its efficiency, with Nury Turkel, Uyghur-American vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom asking whether the Biden government will enforce the import ban stringently or whether it will bow to demands of companies who ask for waivers.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington has reacted with strong condemnation of the bill, continuing it's line of denial over US claims of genocide in Xinjiang.
"This is a severe violation of international law and norms of international relations, and a gross interference in China's internal affairs. China strongly condemns and firmly rejects it," embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said in an emailed statement to Reuters.