It is estimated that 84% of cotton production from China comes from Xinjiang

It is estimated that 84% of cotton production from China comes from Xinjiang

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it will take increased enforcement action against US firms that continue to trade or conduct business in Xinjiang, China.

DHS, along with the US Department of State, the US Department of the Treasury, and the US Department of Commerce, has issued a joint advisory urging US companies to monitor their activities in China, particularly in the Xinjiang region, where it says the Chinese government is "harshly repressing its own people and is committing human rights abuses."

The advisory warns US businesses, individuals, academic institutions, service providers, investors and others that choose to operate in Xinjiang or engage with entities that use labour or goods from Xinjiang will face reputational, economic, and legal risks associated with certain types of involvement with entities that engage in human rights abuses.

The three primary types of supply chain exposure to entities engaged in human rights abuses discussed in the advisory are:

  • Assisting in developing surveillance tools for the PRC government in Xinjiang;
  • Relying on labour or goods sourced in Xinjiang, or from factories elsewhere in China implicated in the forced labour of individuals from Xinjiang in their supply chains, given the prevalence of forced labour and other labour abuses in the region;
  • Aiding in the construction of internment facilities used to detain Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups, and/or in the construction of manufacturing facilities that are in close proximity to camps operated by businesses accepting subsidies from the PRC government to subject minority groups to forced labour.

The announcement follows a decision last month by US President Donald Trump to issue sanctions over the repression of China's Uyghurs. The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, which was signed into law "condemns gross human rights violations of specified ethnic Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region in China and other purposes, including the specified authority to impose sanctions on certain foreign persons."

"The PRC government in Xinjiang has, since at least March 2017, detained for indefinite periods more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps designed to eradicate detainees' cultural and religious identities and to indoctrinate them with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ideology," the advisory states. 

"Detainees describe extreme overcrowding, sleep and food deprivation, medical neglect, physical and psychological abuse (including what they describe as torture), forced labour, forced ingestion of unidentified drugs, sexual abuse, forced abortions, forced birth control, sterilisation, forced renunciation of religion, denial of prayer and other religious practices (including pressure to consume pork or alcohol), denial of the use of their native languages, and being forced to study and recite CCP propaganda. There is evidence that some have died in the internment camps, or very shortly after release, as a result of abuse and neglect. These abuses are now believed to have spread beyond Xinjiang, with credible reports claiming that victims are currently being sent to other provinces and subjected to forced labour and other abusive labour conditions."

Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of DHS, adds: "Given the kind of atrocities going on in China at the hands of the PRC, every US business needs to review the advisory and thoroughly evaluate their business activities and should examine the impact this exportation of forced labour has on their supply chains and more importantly, their reputations." 

Xinjiang is one of the largest suppliers of cotton globally, with the advisory noting it is estimated that 84% of cotton production from China comes from Xinjiang.

Xinjiang cotton is, in some instances, directly exported (though still within China), and in other cases processed into yarn, textiles, or finished apparel within Xinjiang. Reporting by the China Citizen Power Initiative indicates that some parts of the cotton supply chain include prison labourers throughout the vertical supply chain, from working in cotton fields to processing cotton and producing apparel, the document adds.

In March, the Better Cotton Initiative suspended its activities in Xinjiang on the back of concerns over the prevalence of labour abuses in the region. 

"DHS will take increased enforcement action against businesses in the US who violate the law by contributing to human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China," it says in a statement. "DHS Customs and Border Protection will continue to issue trade prohibitions on goods produced with forced labor imported into the United States from China, especially Xinjiang. DHS' Homeland Security Investigations is actively investigating companies and corporate officials who knowingly benefit from forced labor in Xinjiang."