Restrictions mount on companies importing from China

Western governments continue to ramp up pressure on China, and companies that source from the country, to end its “re-education programme” in Xinjiang province. The Chinese Communist Party is using the programme, it is credibly claimed, to enslave more than one million Uighur Muslims and other minorities. These forced laborers are harvesting and making products that are sold around the world. 

US ban

On 13th January 2021 US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) banned the import of cotton and tomato products grown in Xinjiang via a new Withhold Release Order (WRO).

The WRO has far reaching consequences for companies buying goods made of cotton. 20% of the world’s cotton is grown in Xinjiang[1] and the ban extends to any product made from the Province’s cotton. We estimate that fully one third of the world’s cotton is grown, processed or made into goods in China. Companies therefore need to ascertain the ultimate origin of any product containing cotton sourced from China. 

China processes an estimated 12% of the world’s tomatoes and any company purchasing tomato products or seeds should consider the implications of the WRO.

As our previous article details, the US prohibits the import of goods made by forced labour and has increasingly focused enforcement efforts on China.

UK Modern Slavery Act (MSA) fines

On the 12th January 2021 the UK’s foreign minister condemned the abuse in Xinjiang and laid out measures to further tackle modern slavery in British supply chains; including a commitment to fine companies that fail to comply with the MSA. See our previous article for an overview of the MSA.

Action for companies

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights confirms that all companies should engage in human rights due diligence to help tackle abuses in their supply chains. 

While the WRO only applies to US importers, we recommend that all companies cease procuring goods that may be made with Xinjiang cotton. The “re-education programme” is vast, with one million alleged victims, and it is highly credible that forced labourers from the programme are being exploited across many industries in Xinjiang and other areas in China. 

Due to the labour-intensive nature of harvesting, cotton and tomatoes carry a high risk of modern slavery. The problem is not limited to China; there are credible reports of large numbers of forced labourers being used to harvest cotton in countries including Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Guardian newspaper has reported on widescale modern slavery in the Italian tomato industry (which is the largest in Europe).

All cotton and tomato goods, and in particular those sourced from China, should be subjected to enhanced due diligence. Furthermore, companies should check their supply chains for other products made by forced labour from Xinjiang.

The USA and UK are not alone in their actions. Canada will soon impose additional measures on companies doing business in Xinjiang and France and Germany are said to be reviewing their approaches. 

For support, or to learn more about RightsDD’s modern slavery due diligence platform, contact us.

[1] The US Government estimates that China grows 23% of the world’s cotton crop and Xinjiang produces some 85% of the national total.

[2] See our previous article for an overview of the Xinjiang “re-education programme” and US efforts to prevent the import of goods made by its victims.