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US House passes bill to force companies to disclose Xinjiang-sourced materials

·2 min read

Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives approved legislation on Wednesday that would require publicly listed companies in the US to disclose commercial links to China's Xinjiang Autonomous Uygur Region amid concerns about the use of forced labour there.

In contrast to numerous recent China bills that have drawn near unanimous support, the bill passed through the Democratic-controlled chamber along largely party lines. Republicans who opposed the legislation said it would constitute overreach by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

After failed attempts by Republicans to drastically amend the bill, the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act passed by a vote of 253 to 163, with two dozen Republicans breaking ranks to support it.

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If enacted, the bill would compel listed companies to declare in annual reports whether they, or their affiliated entities, imported goods originating in Xinjiang or containing materials sourced there. The companies would also have to declare whether the goods were sourced from "forced labour camps" and, if so, how much revenue those products generated.

The legislation now must pass in the Senate if it is to be sent to the White House before January, when this congressional session ends and all outstanding bills are wiped off the docket.

Beijing has denied the existence of forced labour in Xinjiang, where the United Nations believes more than 1 million Uygurs and other members of ethnic minority groups have been detained in a vast network of internment camps.

Amid a growing body of scholarly research and media reporting alleging the existence of forced labour within or near those facilities, some Western companies have begun cutting their supply chains from the region, while the US government has blacklisted a number of suppliers.

Lawmakers have continued to call for a stronger response from the Trump administration; last week the House of Representatives passed a bill that would effectively ban all imports from Xinjiang.

Republicans gave near unanimous support to that bill, but said that the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act would overburden the SEC and hurt US investors and companies.

Representative Bill Huizenga said that Republicans were in "robust agreement" with Democrats about the need to combat forced labour, but argued that the issue was the purview of the State and Treasury departments.

Speaking on the House floor, Huizenga, a Republican from Michigan, accused Democrats of pushing through an "empty window dressing bill that hurts US investors and companies but unfortunately simply pays lip service to the Uygurs".

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.