June 21, 2022
Today, as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) comes into effect in the United States, the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region urged US importers not to dump goods linked to the Uyghur Region into other markets and to not re-export tainted goods. Hundreds of companies have been publicly identified as having links to Uyghur forced labour. The UFLPA prevents goods made in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Uyghur Region), and by any supplier in China implicated in forced labour, from entering the United States. In an open letter, the Coalition called on companies to apply the UFLPA standard throughout their operations around the world to ensure other markets, like the EU, do not become dumping grounds for goods made with forced labour.
“As human rights advocates around the world celebrate the enforcement of the UFLPA in the US, we also must ask the question: will global corporations just start redirecting their forced labour-made goods to Europe and elsewhere?” said Zumretay Arkin, Program and Advocacy Manager at the World Uyghur Congress.
“We have seen the way corporate greed can motivate businesses to go to great lengths to obscure their reliance on forced labour and other unethical practices to create their products,” said Omer Kanat, Executive Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project. “Any company that is truly committed to ending forced labour must implement a single global standard across its supply chain that bans products originating in the Uyghur Region.”
Numerous reports have revealed how sourcing from the Uyghur Region, or doing business with suppliers involved in state-imposed forced labour schemes, makes corporations complicit in forced labour. The Coalition’s Call to Action, launched two years’ ago and endorsed by more than 400 civil society organisations from over 40 countries, called on corporations to remove any content from the Uyghur Region from their supply chains to ensure they’re not supporting or benefiting from the pervasive forced labour of the Uyghur population and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples. The UFLPA now, in effect, codifies those demands into law in the US market.
“With the UFLPA coming into force, there is a risk companies could shift products that they can no longer import into the US to Europe, in effect making Europe a dumping ground for Uyghur forced labour goods,” said Chloe Cranston, Business and Human Rights Manager at Anti-Slavery International. “We call on companies to urgently trace their supply chains and remove all suppliers linked to the Uyghur Region and Uyghur forced labour.”
Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium, noted that, when shipments are seized at US ports under the UFLPA, importers will technically have the right to re-export those goods to other markets. “We will see if any corporation is brazen enough to take garments or solar panels rejected from the US because they are tainted with forced labour and try to sell those same goods to unsuspecting consumers in the United Kingdom or Japan. The reputational risk would be huge.”
“Given the prevalence of Uyghur forced labour affecting numerous supply chains, robust, effective enforcement of the UFLPA is essential to spur businesses to take action to cut ties with forced labour and to hold accountable those that don’t,” said Allison Gill, Forced Labor Program Director at Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum. “But global alignment is critical for import control mechanisms targeting forced labour goods like the UFLPA to be effective, so other countries should enact measures to prevent their markets from becoming safe harbours for forced labour goods.”
The Coalition calls on governments outside the US to immediately enact laws similar to the UFLPA to ensure their countries are not enabling the importation of products made with Uyghur forced labour. Some of this work is already in motion – in February 2022, the European Commission committed to introducing an EU instrument to effectively ban products made by forced labour from entering the EU market. The Coalition welcomes this proposal, and emphasises that it must be designed effectively to tackle EU companies’ profiteering from Uyghur forced labour. Other governments, including the UK, Japan, Canada, and Australia, must adopt commensurate measures.