LEGISLATION ON THE UYGHURS
The bipartisan ‘Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act’ (H.R. 1155 & S.65) will:
1. Ensure that any goods that enter the U.S. will not be made from forced labor, especially in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of the People’s Republic of China.
2. Introduce multiple strategies, including the use of targeted sanctions, export restrictions, import controls, international cooperation with allies, and the use of bilateral diplomatic channels and multilateral institutions to denounce and end the use of forced labor.
3. Sanction any business, importer, and foreign persons or affiliates that use or benefit from forced labor in XUAR.
Initial concerns about the ‘Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act’:
Once the House followed the Senate by passing this bill, the community had immediate concerns about the House version of the Uyghur bill, fearing that it overlooked how far the forced-labor transfer programs extend. The reality is that Uyghur slavery is not contained just to the Xinjiang region. The Chinese government transfers victims of forced-labor to work in factories ACROSS China.
Initially, the House bill applied solely to products of forced labor from Xinjiang, failing to fully dismantle the system of production by Uyghur slavery that the Chinese Government has established. The Senate bill, however, addressed the transfer of Uyghurs out of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to work in factories across provinces in the People’s Republic of China for forced labor, under the “guise of poverty alleviation and industrial aid programs.”
The House and the Senate reconciled the bill and passed a more comprehensive version in the House on December 15th and the Senate on December 16th.
BACKGROUND ON THE UYGHURS
The Uyghurs are an ethnic Turkic Muslim minority living in the northwest region of Xinjiang, China. Roughly 11 million Uyghurs live in Western China and although Xinjiang has some degree of self-governance, the Uyghur people have been subjected to an intense surveillance campaign orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party.
The crackdown on Muslims in China has also reintroduced political education camps to “re-educate” Uyghurs who follow Islam. Nearly three million Uyghurs have gone through these camps, with one million currently being held. Islam is essentially being treated as a mental illness that needs to be eradicated, as a sort of conversion therapy. Thus, it is not limited to only convicted individuals, but to all Uyghurs and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Those accused have “politically incorrect ideas” and “strong religious views” that are not compatible with the ideals of the Communist Party. The government has forcibly cut off Uyghur men’s beard, banned the hijab, forced Muslims to drink alcohol and consume pork, and banned certain Muslim names for babies. Often times, Muslims are told to criticize themselves and their faith.
Currently, over two million Uyghurs have been sent to the camps and still more are subjected to pervasive ethnic discrimination. Uyghurs living outside of China fare no better; almost all are missing family members and there are reports of countries deporting Uyghur students.