A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate could impose fines on major American corporations that use Chinese slave labor to make their products as popular brands and celebrities are being called on to take a stand against China’s human rights abuses.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced the Slave-Free Business Certification Act, also known as Senate Bill 4241, on Monday.
The bill states that businesses with worldwide gross receipts in excess of $500 million would have to conduct an audit of their supply chains to investigate the “presence or use of forced labor” by their suppliers. This includes the use of forced labor by “direct suppliers, secondary suppliers, and on-site service providers.”
Hawley has called out major multinational corporations from clothing companies like Nike to tech giants like Apple as dozens have been tied to forced labor of Uighur Muslims in factories across China. Uighur Muslims have been subjected to mass detention in state-run detention centers in western China that critics contend are essentially concentration camps.
"Corporate America and the celebrities that hawk their products have been playing this game for a long time — talk up corporate social responsibility and social justice at home while making millions of dollars off the slave labor that assembles their products,” Hawley said in a statement. “Executives build woke, progressive brands for American consumers, but happily outsource labor to Chinese concentration camps, all just to save a few bucks.”
A study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released earlier this year found that 83 multinational companies that include Apple, Nike, Adidas, Google, Microsoft and Tommy Hilfiger are “directly or indirectly benefitting” from forced labor by Uighurs in factories across China.
The report suggested that 80,000 Uighurs have been transferred out of the Western Xinjiang province to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019. This comes as the Chinese government has subjected over an estimated 1 million ethnic minorities in Western China to “re-education” internment camps.
Hawley’s new bill would require corporations to participate in independent audits and disclose the steps they are taking to ensure that slave labor isn’t “part of the equation.”
Corporations would have to submit a report on their audit results to the U.S. Department of Labor highlighting “efforts of the covered business entity to eradicate forced labor from the supply chain.”
The secretary of labor would be required to provide an annual report to Congress highlighting which companies either failed to conduct audits or “have been found to have used forced labor.”
Companies that don’t comply could find themselves subject to consequences. The legislation gives the secretary of labor the authority to assess civil damages of up to $100 million as well as punitive damages of up to $500 million for companies found to be in violation.
The push for the Slave-Free Business Certification Act comes at a time when American companies have gone out of their way to demonstrate their support for social and racial justice within the United States by donating to groups such as Black Lives Matter and the National Action Network.
According to Hawley, these efforts are not good enough as long as American companies continue to stay silent on what happens in China.
"If corporate America wants to be the face of social change today, they should have to certify they are completely slave-free,” Hawley said.
Hawley also took to Twitter this week to call on American companies that produce their products overseas to take a “pledge that they are #slavefree” and will not rely on forced slave labor.
During an appearance on Fox News, Hawley specifically singled out the National Basketball Association, Nike, and NBA star LeBron James. He urged them to take his pledge to be slave free.
Just last week, he called out the NBA for preventing the phrase “Free Hong Kong” from appearing on its customizable apparel. The phrase signals support for the pro-democracy protesters in the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong that China seeks total control over.
After receiving backlash over its decision to ban the phrase, the NBA decided to get rid of its custom gear altogether. In a tweet, Hawley suggested that a desire to preserve the Chinese “slave labor that helps make all those @nba @nike product lines” explains the NBA’s eagerness to disassociate itself from the “Free Hong Kong” movement.
The NBA’s deference to China is one of many topics that came up in a Twitter spat earlier this week between Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. The exchange began when Cruz criticized Cuban for addressing a Mavericks fan who promised to boycott the team if players began kneeling during the national anthem by telling the fan, “BYE.”
Cuban responded to Cruz by telling him to “have some balls for once” and “speak to me.”
At this point, Cruz replied: “Speaking of balls, tell us what you think about China.” In another tweet, Cruz proceeded to ask Cuban, “Can you say free Hong Kong? Can your players put that on their jerseys? Can you condemn the CCP’s concentration camps w/ 1 million Uyghurs?”
Eventually, Cuban directed Cruz to a clip of himself calling for the shutdown of all Chinese initial public offerings before declaring, “I have never gotten involved in the domestic policies of ANY foreign country.”
Other companies included on the ASPI list of entities that are either “directly or indirectly benefitting” from forced Uighur labor are Amazon, Dell, Gap, General Electric and Victoria’s Secret. The report noted that “a small number of brands including Abercrombie & Fitch advised they have instructed their vendors to terminate their relationships with these suppliers in 2020.”
As Hawley pushes his legislation in Congress, the Trump administration is also working to hold China accountable. His administration has often spoken publicly about its opposition to how Uighurs are being treated in China. The U.S. invited Uighur advocates to speak at its two State Department Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last July and in July 2018.
A week after Attorney General William Barr criticized corporate America for “kowtowing” to the Chinese Communist Party, a coalition of human rights activists and organizations signed a letter to Barr asking him to designate the CCP as a transnational criminal organization.
The letter cited China’s role in the manufacturing of Fentanyl, a drug that has killed tens of thousands of Americans and its failure to warn the world about the danger of the coronavirus.
The human rights groups also voiced concern about China’s repeated efforts to engage in economic warfare against the U.S.