It is clear to me that her imprisonment is a direct retaliation for my activism on behalf of the Uighur people here in the United States. As the brutal reality of state-sponsored concentration camps and extrajudicial detainments make headline after headline, I have never stopped fighting for my sister and the millions of other Uighurs who are living this hellish reality.
Finally, last week, the Trump administration called it what it has always been — a genocide. But what is even more shocking than the Chinese government’s abject disregard for human rights and international law is that global companies are knowingly complicit in this genocide. The normalization of slavery in the modern world is happening, and we consumers are enabling it.
Most people remain oblivious to the fact that 20 percent of the world’s cotton comes from East Turkestan (referred to as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region by the Chinese authorities). Modern-day slavery is woven into cotton T-shirts, pillowcases and sneaker laces. The Chinese regime rounded up Uighurs into concentration camps and forced labor facilities, both in and outside of the region. Some of these facilities and the companies that operate them have been linked to brands from Nike to Zara. Seventy-five years ago, Siemens, BMW and Volkswagen profited from the exploitation of Jewish labor in Nazi Germany. “Never again” seems to be happening all over again.
Although U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently announced an order to detain cotton and tomato products from the Uighur homeland in response to the widespread use of forced and prison labor, this is a drop in the bucket. The Chinese government has shipped Uighur prisoners to factories across China. And there’s virtually no way to guarantee that a cute T-shirt produced there was not made by a woman who was forcibly sterilized and thrown into a concentration camp for refusing to renounce Islam.
Global companies may claim that they do due diligence in monitoring their supply chains, but this is preposterous. As Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, explained in his testimony before the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, “There is no Uighur worker whose labor is coerced who can possibly feel safe conveying the truth to an auditor.” As a result, several industry auditing firms have essentially blacklisted the region.
The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region — a group made up of more than 300 civil society groups — has called on companies to divest entirely from the region. Companies should be confronted with the question of how much my sister’s life is worth to them. How much are millions of Uighur lives worth? Consumers are increasingly aware of the situation facing the Uighurs and do not want to purchase products linked to slavery. Companies doing business in such an environment must realize that moral compromises on human rights abuses of this magnitude will have consequences.
As we transition to a new presidential administration, it is essential that the momentum in addressing these human rights atrocities be carried forward. The proposed Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act shifts the burden of proof that materials are made without forced labor onto brands rather than customs officials. Congress needs to pass this bill as is, and once it is law, the U.S. government must strictly enforce it.
At a bare minimum, I hope the Biden administration ensures the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which passed with nearly unanimous bipartisan support and imposes sanctions on entities and individuals involved in these human rights abuses, will be enforced to the full extent. The Biden administration must also prioritize Section 307 of the Tariff Act — which outlaws forced labor imports — and ensure that thorough and effective enforcement is applied to every ban on products originating from the Uighur homeland.
I believe strongly that President Biden and his team have a firm commitment to holding the Chinese regime accountable, along with the businesses that knowingly choose to be complicit in these crimes against humanity. The international community is watching, China is watching, and it is no overstatement that the future of our democratic world and freedom is at stake.