In a letter submitted Wednesday to House and Senate leadership, five fashion industry trade organizations reiterated their zero-tolerance position toward forced labor and urged Congress to take quick, clear, implementable and decisive action on the crisis, likened to “genocide,” unfolding in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
The letter from the American Apparel & Footwear Association, Footwear Distributors of America, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association and United States Fashion Industry Association also implored Congress to ensure that any action is part of a broader U.S.-led global strategy to end forced labor in the XUAR and the larger campaign of oppression it fuels.
The letter states that collectively, the members of the associations are “continuously strengthening the measures they take to identify and eliminate forced labor from their supply chains, particularly when forced labor becomes more widespread in a specific region due to structural policies, as is the case in XUAR.”
These retailers and vendors are also “investigating new technologies and implementing innovative approaches to decipher where supply chains are susceptible to forced labor,” they added.
“To bolster these efforts, we support legislation that builds upon current efforts and enables clear and effective enforcement methods to supplement our own,” they wrote. “Congress has already equipped the U.S. government with critical tools to target both the perpetrators and the beneficiaries of forced labor and other egregious human rights abuses. It is already illegal to import products that are made wholly or in part with forced labor.”
The letter noted that the 2016 change that removed the consumptive demand clause was an important step to further facilitate U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) enforcement capabilities, which the agency has already utilized extensively as it relates to XUAR. Further, the Global Magnitsky Act enables the U.S. Treasury Department to target government officials and organizations responsible for egregious human rights violations, as well as those entities that benefit from it, with severe financial sanctions.
In the past few months, CBP has issued a number of major withhold release orders (WROs) relating to production in XUAR. However, CBP officials have acknowledged that they do not have the resources or capacity to enforce these WROs while companies are actively working to ensure compliance, according to the coalition.
“Congress can and should play a critical role to ensure these efforts are fully funded, targeted and effective, particularly to fight the crisis in XUAR,” the groups wrote. “Additional efforts should take stock of measures that have already been taken, ensure administrability, and provide all stakeholders a clear, effective, and enforceable path forward on reaching our shared goal–ending forced labor in the XUAR and the larger campaign of oppression it fuels.”
In support of new actions that will build upon current efforts, the letter urges Congress to take action that requires the development of a “transparent, tiered, risk-based approach to enforcement of any new forced labor provisions before implementation of those provisions” and “creates a clear, transparent, and evidence-based process for implementing both current and future regulations.”
In addition, the letter calls on Congress to promote the development and implementation of cost-effective technologies and innovative approaches for traceability, and establishes the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act as a federal disclosure requirement on what companies are doing to prevent forced labor and human trafficking in their supply chains.
The groups also renewed their call for the U.S. government to lead, in cooperation with like-minded countries, the U.S. business community, and other key stakeholders, in “developing and implementing a holistic, transparent, and enforceable approach to end forced labor in China, as well as the larger campaign of oppression it fuels…Ensuring forced labor does not infect our supply chains is absolutely vital. We cannot rely upon U.S. corporate supply chains alone to stop forced labor at its source. It will take the collective effort of all parties to bring the situation in XUAR to an end.”
The letter added that in the case of XUAR, “we must use all available tools to ensure goods made with forced labor inputs do not make their way to the United States.”
But to truly end forced labor practices in XUAR and the larger campaign of oppression if fuels, the U.S. government must take a leading role in developing, coordinating and implementing this holistic approach, the letter stated.
“The recent designation of the atrocities in XUAR as genocide is an important step in this effort,” the groups concluded. “Therefore, we urge Congress to ensure the U.S. government employs all diplomatic means at its disposal to unite our friends and allies in taking action to end what is happening in XUAR.”