HomeCorruptionChina's Slavery: US Lawmakers Demand Ban on Forced Labor in the Seafood...

China’s Slavery: US Lawmakers Demand Ban on Forced Labor in the Seafood Industry

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A group of determined U.S. lawmakers is calling upon the Biden administration to take a stand against the grim underbelly of China’s seafood industry. Their demand: to ban seafood products processed in two specific Chinese provinces from entering the lucrative U.S. market. The reason behind this outcry? Deep-seated concerns about rampant rights abuses, particularly the alarming practice of forced labor in Chinese facilities. These legislators are adamant that Chinese businesses utilizing such exploitative labor practices should be prohibited from engaging in commerce with American companies.

This impassioned plea was delivered by the leaders of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China to the Department of Homeland Security, a congressional group entrusted with monitoring China’s compliance with international human rights standards. It marks the latest salvo in the ongoing battle by U.S. lawmakers to restrict imports of Chinese goods, fueled by allegations of pervasive rights violations. This move is sure to ruffle feathers in Beijing, especially at a time when trade and diplomatic tensions are running high.

The commission’s case draws strength from exhaustive investigations conducted by the non-profit journalism organization, The Outlaw Ocean Project. Their findings reveal a harrowing tale of human rights abuses within China’s sprawling fishing fleet. Furthermore, they expose the reprehensible exploitation of ethnic Uyghurs, hailing from the troubled Xinjiang region, in seafood processing plants situated in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong. According to the commission, these sanctions are essential to ensure compliance with U.S. laws that unequivocally forbid the importation of goods tainted by forced labor.

The grim reality doesn’t stop there; emerging evidence suggests that as many as 80,000 North Koreans toil away in seafood processing plants in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning. The magnitude of this crisis demands immediate attention and action.

Rep. Chris Smith, the commission’s chair, minced no words when he denounced these practices as “egregious violations of human rights,” a flagrant violation of U.S. laws against forced labor. He underscored the extent of the issue, noting that these tainted products infiltrate the supply chains of major restaurants, wholesalers, and even find their way into the meals served at American schools and military bases. Such a situation is not just morally reprehensible; it also carries grave national security implications. Chinese fishing vessels have been instrumental in advancing China’s territorial claims in contested waters, a point that Smith stressed with great concern.

China, predictably, vehemently denies allegations that Uyghurs are being coerced to work in distant factories, far from their homes. Beijing maintains that these programs are intended to provide better-paying jobs to Uyghurs and are embraced by the very people they purport to help. The Chinese government’s narrative runs counter to a mounting body of evidence pointing to mass detentions, repression, and political indoctrination of Uyghurs, who predominantly identify as Muslims. While Beijing insists that its policies in Xinjiang are essential to combat extremism, separatism, and terrorism, critics argue that these measures have spiraled into a massive human rights crisis.

In response to these grave concerns, Congress passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in 2021, designed to ensure that goods entering the U.S. market are free from forced labor sourced from the Xinjiang region. Beijing accuses Washington of exploiting this issue as a pretext to hinder its rise on the global stage.

Ian Urbina, who spearheaded the exhaustive investigation at The Outlaw Ocean Project, addressed the commission, emphasizing that the federal law places the onus on industries to prove that their products do not involve Uyghur or other ethnic minority Xinjiang labor. Until such proof is furnished, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is tasked with blocking imports linked to these practices.

The United States imports approximately 80% of its seafood, with China being the largest supplier by far, as reported by the organization. The Outlaw Ocean Project’s findings revealed a disturbing pattern where thousands of workers from Xinjiang were forcibly relocated to the eastern coastal province of Shandong to work in seafood processing plants, the products of which ended up on U.S. shores.

While Chinese state media portrays Uyghur workers as grateful for the employment opportunities provided, Urbina’s report paints a very different picture. Those who resist are subjected to punishment, and their activities are closely monitored within these factories. In an act of defiance, some Uyghur workers have resorted to social media to voice their grievances, underscoring the urgency of addressing this humanitarian crisis.

Following the hearing, Elfidar Iltebir, president of the Uyghur American Association, urged the U.S. government to fully enforce the law. She pointed out the pressing concern that the U.S. government has reportedly spent over $200 million on imported seafood in the past five years, heightening suspicions of potential ties to Uyghur forced labor in Chinese processing plants. The urgency of this matter cannot be overstated; it is a clarion call for justice, human rights, and accountability in the global supply chain.

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