Background

A ban on imports from a Chinese region at the center of concerns about the use of forced labor moved a step closer to reality Dec. 8 with the House of Representatives’ near-unanimous approval of related legislation. The House bill will have to be reconciled with a Senate measure approved this past summer before it can be signed into law.

H.R. 1155 would prohibit all imports from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region under a presumption that they are made with forced labor unless companies provide “clear and convincing evidence” to U.S. Customs and Border Protection that they are not. According to an article in The New York Times, some believe this standard of proof “would be overly arduous given the opacity of Chinese supply chains and the difficulty in auditing them” and could further roil supply chains for products such as apparel and polysilicon, which is used to make solar panels.

The House bill would also (1) authorize the president to apply targeted sanctions on anyone responsible for the labor trafficking of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities, (2) require financial disclosures from U.S. publicly-traded businesses about their engagement with Chinese companies and other entities engaged in mass surveillance, mass internment, forced labor, and other serious human rights abuses in the XUAR, and (3) require a strategy report from the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force and regular updates on the steps taken to enforce the bill’s import prohibition.

Earlier this year the Senate approved a measure (S. 65) with similar aims but some differences. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Senate bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a list of entities working with the government in Xinjiang to move forced labor or Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, or members of other persecuted groups out of the XUAR. CBP would generally presume that goods produced by these entities and certain other entities, generally those sourcing material from the XUAR or involved with Chinese government forced labor programs, are barred from importation into the U.S. The bill would also (1) expand existing asset- and visa-blocking sanctions related to the XUAR to cover foreign individuals and entities responsible for serious human rights abuses in connection with forced labor and (2) require the Department of State to develop a strategy to enhance international awareness of forced labor in the XUAR and address such forced labor.

A Politico article reports that differences in the Senate bill include “a longer timeline for companies to adjust to new trade rules and directives to CBP to make its enforcement more manageable for importers.”

Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg offers a comprehensive suite of services to help companies address forced labor concerns, including supply chain reviews, due diligence strategies, and proactive remediation. In addition, ST&R has launched a new web page offering a broad range of information on forced labor-related efforts in the U.S. and around the world. ST&R also has an on-demand webinar on forced labor and supply chain transparency available online.

For more information on any of these initiatives, please contact Amanda Levitt (at (212) 549-0148) or via email), David Olave (at (202) 730-4960 or via email), or Nicole Bivens Collinson (at (202) 730-4956 or via email).

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