Several branches of the U.S. government on Wednesday warned private companies against using supply chains tied to forced labor camps in China's Xinjiang province. The advisory was issued shortly after U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) authorities in Newark, New Jersey, seized about $800,000 worth imported goods from China, including human hair products.
Xinjiang, China, is where an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are facing an alleged expansive campaign of repression, including forced sterilization, destruction of religious sites and mass "re-education" camps.
The shipments seized Wednesday contained about 13 tons of hair products suspected to be made with human hair that originated in Xinjiang, indicating potential human right abuses of forced child labor and imprisonment, according to a CBP statement.
“The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, 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,” said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade.
CBP detained the shipment per a Withhold Release Order (WRO) on hair products manufactured by Lop County Meixin Hair Product Co. Ltd. issued on June 17. The order instructed ports of entry nationwide to detain all products from Meixin based on “information that reasonably indicated that they are manufactured with the use of prison labor.”
Wednesday's advisory was jointly issued by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The advisory warns private companies operating within the U.S. to be aware of the large-scale human rights abuses against Muslim minority groups as well as “deceptive practices employed by the [Chinese] government in Xinjiang.” The advisory noted the possibility of criminal prosecution and other legal ramifications private companies may face if caught maintaining supply chains linked to human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
“CEOs should read this notice closely and be aware of the reputational, economic, and legal risks of supporting such an assault on human dignity," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a press conference Wednesday.
Beyond labor and goods from Xinjiang, the advisory warns U.S. companies from doing business with firms that are reliant on forced labor elsewhere in China. It also warns companies against assisting in the construction of the "re-education" camps or contributing to the government’s surveillance system in the region.
Given the latest reports about a mass sterilization campaign, which the Chinese government has denied, Pompeo was asked whether the U.S. considers the crackdown on Muslim minorities like the Uighurs to be genocide.
"The United States takes seriously our obligation to preserve human rights -- human rights of the people in China,” said Pompeo, calling on allies and Muslim nations to also pressure Beijing. “We'll continue to do that. We're constantly evaluating those actions against the legal norms and standards for the world.”