On December 23, 2021, President Biden enacted the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at ensuring that products made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China do not not enter the US market. The law is a direct response to reports that Uyghurs and other Turkish minorities are subjected to forced labor and other atrocities, and aims to prevent American businesses and consumers from becoming complicit in the atrocities. Earlier this year, the US State Department recognized atrocities against Uyghurs as genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Uyghur Law on the Prevention of Forced Labor creates a presumption that “with respect to all goods, merchandise, articles and merchandise extracted, produced or manufactured in whole or in part in Xinjiang […] or produced by an entity on a list […], (1) the importation of such goods, merchandise, articles and merchandise is prohibited under section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930; and (2) such merchandise, merchandise, articles and merchandise are not permitted to enter any port in the United States. The Act provides an exception where the importer has fully complied with the guidelines set out in the Act, has responded fully and substantially to all inquiries submitted by the Commissioner to verify the origin of the goods, and “by clear and convincing evidence that the good, commodity, article or commodity has not been extracted, produced or manufactured in whole or in part by forced labor.

Commenting on this development, President Nancy Pelosi said that: “The ongoing genocide perpetrated by the Chinese government against the Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities is a challenge to the conscience of the whole world, which is why the House adopted twice a law to hold the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] responsible for its exploitation of forced labor and put an end to this horrific practice.

Pelosi added, “Congress, on a bipartite and bicameral basis, will continue to condemn and confront the CCP’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and many other violations in the region, from Hong Kong to Tibet to the mainland. If America does not defend human rights in China because of business interests, we lose all moral authority to defend human rights anywhere in the world.

The law is a welcome step to ensure that companies are not complicit in atrocities against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. White House press secretary Jen Psaki called on all industries to: “Make sure they do not source products involving forced labor, including forced labor from Xinjiang … La The reality is that companies that fail to address forced labor and other human rights violations in their supply chains face serious legal risks [and] reputational and customer risks, not only in the United States but in Europe and other parts of the world. These failures continue despite clear international standards on business human rights obligations.

Businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate in the world, in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). This corporate responsibility exists even if the state (where the companies operate) does not fulfill its duty to adhere to human rights obligations. Companies need to step up their efforts to ensure that due diligence of their supply chain is carried out and publicize it to ensure the transparency of the process. They must ensure that if human rights violations are identified, such violations are stopped and remedial action taken urgently. The human rights project will not work if companies look the other way when human rights violations occur.