Margaret Merrifield is a first-year law student at American University Washington College of Law. Margaret earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky with degrees in Foreign Language and International Economics (Chinese) and Political Science. Her interests include international business and contract law.
Since 2017, the Chinese government has put more than a million people in prison or detention camps. Among those imprisoned are the Uyghurs, an ethnic group predominantly consisting of Muslim, Turkic-speaking people. The vast majority of Uyghurs live in XinJiang, a northwestern region in China. Uyghurs who were not imprisoned have been subject to harsh monitoring, limitations on their freedom of religion, forced labor, and forced sterilizations. The United States has characterized China’s actions against the Uyghurs as genocide, and the United Nations has categorized the Chinese government’s actions as severe human rights violations. Feverishly denying these accusations, the Chinese government claims the Uyghurs voluntarily enrolled themselves in the detainment camps, instead calling them “vocational education and training centers.” The Chinese government has further stated it has not violated the basic human rights of the Uyghurs and has since closed the camps. However, using satellite imagery, individual testimony, and secret Chinese government intel, journalists and scholars have uncovered a continuous system of mass imprisonment throughout the region.
In response to the crimes against humanity happening within Chinese borders, President Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (“UFLPA”) into law on December 23, 2022. The act defines forced labor as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” The UFLPA establishes that Section 307 of the Tariff Act prohibits the importation of “goods, wares, articles, and merchandise” that was either “mined, produced, or manufactured” entirely or partially in the XinJiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (“XUAR”) of the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”). It further states that such items are prohibited from entering the United States market.
The act will hopefully force China to source its labor in a more humanitarian way. In the meantime, US businesses will be heavily impacted by the UFLPA. The XUAR exported goods worth over $18 billion in 2019.Approximately 0.01 percent of all items imported to the United States originate directly from the XUAR, which is worth around $300 million of goods. Raw materials and components from the XUAR are combined with many types of goods that are completed in other regions of China or transferred through other nations before being shipped to the United States. After the UFLPA was enacted, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) evaluates a wide range of items entering the United States in order to effectively implement the act. Businesses whose shipments are suspected of being connected to forced labor in the XUAR will be required to show either that their goods are not entirely or partially produced from the region, or that goods made in the region were not a product of forced labor. In order to comply with the UFLPA, flagged businesses must provide the CBP with a “comprehensive supply chain map,” a complete list of the entity’s employees involved in the manufacture of the imported good, and evidence that the employees voluntarily completed the work and were not subject to conditions consistent with forced labor practices. The burden of proof is a very high bar and must be “clear and convincing.” If CPB suspects a business of noncompliance with UFLPA, it has the authority to detain or confiscate goods and impose fines.
Complexity in product manufacturing may conceal the origins of products acquired from the XUAR and make it more challenging for importers to accurately trace their supply chains. CPB has committed to releasing more information to clarify its enforcement plan and how to curtail this challenge, but it has not yet been communicated.
The UFLPA has gained huge bipartisan support, with 428 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives voting in favor of the UFLPA, and the entire Senate supporting the act. There has been some pushback, specifically from large corporations including Nike and Coca-Cola.Lobbyists have worked to dispel some of the act’s provisions, claiming that while they ardently oppose forced labor and the present atrocities in the XUAR, the UFLPA’s strict requirements would have a disastrous impact on supply networks that are deeply rooted in China. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, compiled a list of corporations with possible connections to forced labor in the XUAR, which included Adidas, Calvin Klein, Campbell Soup Company, Costco, H&M, Patagonia, and Tommy Hilfiger.
Although many businesses will be impacted by the UFLPA, its purpose is to communicate to both China and the world that the United States will not tolerate or accept goods produced by forced labor. Only time will tell the further impacts of the UFLPA on the United States’ supply chain and the active humanitarian situation in China.
 Lindsay Maizland, China’s Repression of Uyghurs in XinJiang, Council on Foreign Rels. (Sept. 22, 2022), https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-xinjiang-uyghurs-muslims-repression-genocide-human-rights.
 The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, H.R. 1155, 117th Cong. (2022).
 Forced Labor Convention, 1930 (No. 29), art. 2.
 Marty Flacks & Madeleine Songy, The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act Goes Into Effect, Ctr. for Strategic and Int’l Studies (June 27, 2022), https://www.csis.org/analysis/uyghur-forced-labor-prevention-act-goes-effect.
 Nasim Fussell et al., UFLPA Comes Into Effect; Task Force Publishes Its Enforcement Strategy, Holland & Knight (July 13, 2022), https://www.hklaw.com/en/insights/publications/2022/07/uflpa-comes-into-effect-task-force-publishes-its-enforcement-strategy.
 David Bond et al., Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act: Commercial Implications, Compliance Challenges and Responses, White & Case (Oct. 3, 2022), https://www.whitecase.com/insight-alert/uyghur-forced-labor-prevention-act-commercial-implications-compliance-challenges-and.
 Flacks, supra note 12.
 Bond, supra note 19.
 Zachary Basu, Senate Passes Uyghur Forced Labor Bill, Axios, (Dec. 16, 2021), https://www.axios.com/2021/12/16/uyghur-forced-labor-china-nicholas-burns.
 Ana Swanson, Nike and Coca-Cola Lobby Against Xinjiang Forced Labor Bill, N.Y. Times, (Jan. 20, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/29/business/economy/nike-coca-cola-xinjiang-forced-labor-bill.html.