A senior US senator on Tuesday accused US firms of willfully ignoring “horrific” forced labor conditions in China’s Xinjiang region, and called on the US Department of Commerce to stop US companies and consumers buying goods produced by such labor.
In a letter to US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, US Senator Bob Menendez said that reports have indicated that a wide array of US companies, including Apple Inc, Kraft Heinz Co, Coca-Cola Co and the Gap Inc, had sourced or continued to source goods from Xinjiang.
“Moreover, there are consistent reports that US companies fail to undertake basic labor and human rights assessments in Xinjiang, in essence willfully ignoring the horrific conditions of forced labor in Xinjiang,” Menendez, the ranking member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said in the letter.
“In failing to uphold their responsibilities to vet their supply chains, these companies may be complicit in the mass repression of Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and members of other Muslim minority groups,” he said.
The firms Menendez mentioned did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The UN estimates that more than 1 million Muslim Uighurs have been detained in camps in Xinjiang. China denies it violates Uighur rights, and says the camps are designed to stamp out terrorism and provide vocational skills.
Menendez, who has called for sanctions on China over the issue, also requested information about US government contractors who source cotton from China, which produces 84 percent of its cotton in Xinjiang.
“The use of materials that are manufactured using forced labor is unacceptable for products in US markets,” he said in the letter.
An Australian think tank said in a report earlier this month that tens of thousands of ethnic Uighurs have been transferred to work in factories across China, supplying 83 global brands in conditions “that strongly suggest forced labor.”
Nike Inc, which was included in that report, said in a statement on its Web site that while the company “does not directly source products from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” it had been conducting due diligence with its suppliers in China to identify and assess potential risks related to employment of people from the region.
On Monday, the Washington-based Fair Labor Association (FLA), which conducts due diligence for major multinational firms, said it was “deeply troubled by credible reports of forced labor and other violations of fundamental rights in Xinjiang.”
“We have directed our affiliates to review their direct and indirect sourcing relationships, identify alternative sourcing opportunities, and develop timebound plans to ensure that their sourcing is in line with the FLA’s principles,” it said.
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