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US Sanctions on Chinese Labour-Camp Products: Responding to Human Rights abuses

BY: Margaret Pham

At the Port of New York/Newark on July 1st, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized nearly 13 tons of hair products including wigs, weaves, and other similar products. Amidst concerns from Chinese Internment camps, these human hair products valued at more than USD 800,000 alarmed officials raising suspicions of “potential human rights abuses of forced child labor and imprisonment”. Customs officials cite violations: “use of prison labor, additional situations of forced labor, including, but not limited to, excessive overtime, withholding wages, and the restriction of movement.” At the Customs and Border Protection Office of Trade, Executive Assistant Commissioner Brenda Smith explains, The production of these goods… and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in U.S. supply chains”. 

Rising awareness about Chinese-Muslim Detention camps in Xinjiang may have greatly contributed to the U.S. preparing sanctions on China. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has vowed that these measures will be “harsh”. Action from American officials comes with the increasing tensions between Beijing and the Trump administration. Many suspect that these upcoming trade sanctions will likely target the Communist Party officials that have been persecuting minorities and holding Muslims in concentration camps in Xinjiang, although no specific names or groups have been cited. 

To carry out the sanctions, the U.S. employs the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016. This particular act allows the U.S. to sanction foreign groups that are suspected of breaching human rights. Two weeks ago, despite the country still tense with protests and rallies, President Trump signed into law, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, allowing him to enact visa revocations, asset blocking, and numerous other sanctions if he were to determine that doing so is at the best interest of the United States. 

China’s Xinjiang Region has detained an estimated more than 1 million ethnic Turkic minorities over the past four years. Held in internment camps and prisons, the Turkic Muslims are forced to undergo ideological disciplines, including denouncing their religion, language, and religious traditions and practices. The Chinese government has long feared the ethnic minorities, made up of mostly Muslims, to hold separatist tendencies due to their differing culture, religion, and language. 

Nearly two years ago, The Associated Press visited the Hetian Haolin Hair Product Company during an investigation about the forced labor in these very camps. A clue connecting Uyghur cultural traditions to the seized hair shipments is the tradition that women of their culture to grow their hair very long. Many women who have left these camps have spoken about their experiences that included having their heads shaved upon being detained in Xinjiang. Unfortunately, their efforts were halted when their car was stopped by Chinese police and ordering them to turn back; signaling that their efforts were being tracked. From the outside, the factory dauntingly held up political propaganda amidst barbed wire and numerous surveillance technology. 

No sanctions have been set yet, however, at the moment the Chinese Ministry of Affairs has firmly declined any forced labor camps or detained ethnic minorities releasing a statement saying, “We hope that certain people in the United States can take off their tinted glasses, correctly understand and objectively and rationally view normal economic and trade cooperation between Chinese and American enterprises”.

The U.S.’s decision to halt these shipments have received support from those in exile and set an example to other countries to take action in a similar fashion to address the number of imported goods made with forced labor and companies or factories that seem to hold connection to the growing network of Uyghur internment camps.

*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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