Shmuly Yanklowitz

American Businesses Hold Responsibility for the Uyghur Genocide

(Wikimedia Commons)

What does it take to get near-unanimous bipartisan support from both houses of Congress these days? And on a potentially delicate issue of international relations? And for them to take action, moreover, which will inconvenience American businesses? Only a decision of such obvious moral necessity as ending active American participation in a genocide!

In 2021, one year into President Joe Biden’s term, The U.S. Congress passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Its stated goal is “To ensure that goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China do not enter the United States market.” China is perpetrating repression and atrocities of horrific scale in attempting to wipe out the cultural heritage of the Uyghur ethno-religious minority in East Turkistan or Xinjiang Region. Along with separation of families, forced sterilization, and the destruction of mosques, the Chinese regime’s persecutions have included mass detention and forced labor. Whatever other actions we should take to halt the genocide (Save the date for April 17-18, when the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity will be holding a mass gathering to disrupt the genocide in New York City)—we should not be purchasing the goods produced out of that genocide.

On this point even the usually at-odds Republicans and Democrats of the House and Senate largely agree. When the stakes are high enough, and the ethics are absolute enough, and the facts are clear enough, sometimes the US federal government can still take a stand for what is right. Even against a global superpower like China.

But it isn’t working.

I don’t just mean that China is continuing its atrocities. I don’t even just mean that China is continuing its use of forced labor as a genocidal tactic, in spite of losing the American market.

I mean that China has not lost their American market for the products of their atrocities.

You, dear reader, are probably right now using products made, consuming seafood processed, or wearing clothing produced, by the hands of Uyghur laborers who are imprisoned in the process of the deliberate annihilation of their people and their culture.

What went wrong?

The DHS has faced challenges in enforcing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. The volume of imports, lack of sufficient resources to perform checks, loophole policies, and literally moving targets of locations of interest have all led to massive failures to enforce the policy, and continued sales of forced labor products in America. You can read more about the failures in this congressional testimony by Louisa Greve, Director of Global Advocacy, Uyghur Human Rights Project and this bipartisan letter to DHS from a Congressional Select Committee (two members of Congress writing on behalf of all 24 members of their committee).

As we can see from a select committee report, the problem is enforcement. Additionally, the ban doesn’t include packages below a certain cost and there is a lot of re-exporting where products get repackaged in another country and then re-exported. An Israeli company, Ultra Information Solutions, is tracking this and has documented closely how this is all happening. Millions of shipments are sent to the U.S. each year, through companies like Temu and Shein, that dodges compliance with the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA). This means we are all but certain that regularly products produced through Uyghur forced labor are being sold in this country, making the UFLPA ineffective at achieving its goals.

So what can we do?

Now is the time for the private sector to rise to the moral (and legal) demands of the moment. We need transparency from businesses to prove that they are not profiting from the brutal repression and forced labor of the Uyghur people.

The Coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labour, which advocated for the law, is now calling on businesses directly to ensure compliance with the law throughout their supply chain, and requesting documentation. They are publicizing which companies are actively complying and which are not responding in various relevant industries. They are issuing report cards and using the hashtag #ForcedLabourFashion across social media to hold the fashion industry in particular accountable.

If both Republican and Democratic elected representatives, many of whom are supported by industry funds, and many of whom ideologically support free market economics and deregulation, can come together and say “this is too far,” then corporations can look beyond their short-term bottom-line competition and do the same, document their supply chains, and give consumers the option to shop without being complacent participants of genocide.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash (Jewish pluralistic adult learning & leadership), the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek (Jewish Social Justice), the Founder and CEO of Shamayim (Jewish animal advocacy), the Founder and President of YATOM, (Jewish foster and adoption network), and the author of 22 books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.
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