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Pause Before You Give Congress Credit for Trying to Stop Slave Labor in China

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AP Photo/Mark Scheifelbein, File

American corporate and political leaders are more eager than ever to burnish their do-gooder credentials. Companies are taking stands on social issues more than ever before. Politicians also want to make sure the voters know they are socially just. It's no surprise, therefore, that each house of Congress has passed a bill to stop the importation of goods made with Chinese slave labor. What's more interesting is just how much top American companies and our political leaders have done to slow down the process and weaken the protections. It's a case study in how Congress, the White House and big business work hand-in-hand to control the agenda in Washington.


China's government is using slave labor to produce goods used by American companies. Even worse, China is committing genocide against its Uyghur minority population. Genocide -- to be clear, that means that China is attempting to "destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

The fact that this is happening today in China is not subject to much debate anymore; both Republicans and Democrats agree. The day before leaving office, Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a report saying, "I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state." Joe Biden issued a similar statement as he campaigned for president. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has issued similar statements while in office. They all agree on the facts.

And just how horrific are these facts? The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a report last month that found that there was a reasonable basis to believe that China's crimes include "forced sterilization, sexual violence, enslavement, torture, and forcible transfer." These Chinese crimes have been ongoing for years now.

The Communist Chinese government has undertaken a repressive campaign against their Uyghur Muslim minority. As part of that campaign, they have placed huge numbers of Uyghurs in internment or reeducation camps, and they have shipped many others out of their home region to other parts of China to do forced labor. The Holocaust Museum report lays out the charges in brutal detail. One Uyghur woman recounted being raped by men who used iron bars and electric batons, and later being raped by three men together in a Chinese detention facility. "I remember it very clearly," the report quotes her as saying. "I can't cry and I can't die ... my soul and heart are dead."


News of the Chinese forced labor camps has been trickling out for many years based on satellite imagery and firsthand accounts from inmates. In 2018, The New York Times first broke the news of official Chinese documents laying out the plans for these slave labor camps. In 2019, the Times even published many of these documents. More recently, we have learned that these Chinese actions were following orders straight from the top. As recently reported by the Victims of Communism Foundation, Xi Jinping, China's president, ordered the implementation of measures to persecute Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang Province in "top secret" speeches during the 2010s. The New York Times, in its earlier reporting, did not include these "top secret" speeches.

Various reports have shown that major U.S. companies, including Apple and Nike, may be using products from these Chinese slave labor camps in their supply chains. As the U.S. government began belatedly coming up with a policy response to this situation, The New York Times found that major American companies engaged in lobbying to weaken protections or slow down the process. It seems to have worked.

Despite all the press about Congress finally tackling this situation, the reality is that nothing has been done. Yes, as reported widely this week, the House and the Senate have now each passed bills that would ultimately ban the importation of Chinese products from the region in question, but those bills are not yet the law, and there are currently no plans to enact them into a law. It's important to understand that those bills would have become the law of the land very quickly if, as Sen. Marco Rubio and others pressed for, they were included in the must-pass national defense bill. Senate Democrats blocked that effort. According to The Washington Post, a senior Biden State Department official asked the senators to hold up the bill until the language could be watered down.


Why would the Biden administration ask senators to hold up a bill stopping slave labor? Some of the products made in the region in question -- including 45% of the world's polysilicon supply needed for solar panels -- are crucial for the administration's green agenda. Former Sen. John Kerry, the administration's climate envoy, made the priorities clear when he refused to address how his green aspirations rely on slave labor, saying during a United Nations press conference, "That's not my lane here ... My job is to be the climate guy and stay focused on trying to move the climate agenda forward."

Despite the press about the House and Senate passing slave labor protections, at the urging of corporate America and the Biden administration, we have done nothing yet. You hear a lot about social justice from corporate America and from the Biden administration. As this case shows, however, social justice is only important when it doesn't hit a company's bottom line. And stopping slave labor is important to the Biden administration, but apparently not as important as getting China to agree to make another loophole-filled climate promise that they will enforce 40 or 50 years from now. We are watching experts manipulate a process and a press corps largely along for the ride.

Before the bills that have passed can become law, Congress needs to put together a process to reconcile them. That process will give corporate America and the Biden administration yet another shot at watering down any protections. And guess when all that's scheduled? It's not.


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