U.S. Customs and Border Patrol issued a ban on imports of cotton and tomatoes from the Xinjiang region in China, citing Beijing’s use of forced labor.
Around 20 percent of the world’s cotton is picked in Xinjiang, and the region is also a major exporter of tomatoes, which are used to make ketchup for the U.S. market. The U.S. imported $9 billion in cotton products and $10 million in tomatoes from China during the past year.
A report from the Center for Global Policy released in December identified “strong evidence” that the majority of Xinjiang cotton production “involves a coercive, state-run program targeting ethnic minority groups.” China has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in a network of so-called reeducation camps, some of which contain factories where prisoners are forced to work.
“Forced labor is a form of modern slavery,” Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Kenneth Cuccinelli told reporters on Wednesday. “‘Made in China’ doesn’t just indicate country of origin—it’s a warning label.”
“CBP will not tolerate the Chinese government’s exploitation of modern slavery to import goods into the United States below fair market value,” CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said in a statement. “Imports made on the cheap by using forced labor hurt American businesses that respect human rights and also expose unsuspecting consumers to unethical purchases.”
CBP issued import bans on various Chinese products in 2020 over concerns of forced labor. A bill under consideration in the Senate, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, would ban any product imported from Xinjiang unless customs officials verify that the product was made without forced labor.
Multinational corporations including Apple, Nike, and Coca-Cola, are reportedly lobbying to water down the bill.