Congress seeks to block goods from China over forced labor

FILE - This Nov. 4, 2019, file photo shows cargo cranes at the Port of Tacoma in Tacoma, Wash. U.S lawmakers are pushing for a ban on exports from an area of northwest China following a report that found widespread use of forced labor. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan bill aimed at keeping goods out of the U.S. that are made with the forced labor of detained ethnic minorities in China passed overwhelmingly Tuesday in the House of Representatives despite concerns about the potential effects on global commerce.

The House voted 406-3 to declare that any goods produced in the vast Xinjiang region of northwestern China are presumptively made with the forced labor of detained Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, and therefore banned from being imported to the U.S.

If enacted into law, it could have significant ripple effects in global trade by forcing companies to avoid a region that products 80% of the cotton in China, one of the world's top producers of the fiber, as well as tomatoes and manufactured goods.

Members of Congress say the measure is needed to press China to stop a campaign that has resulted in the detention of more than 1 million Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups under brutal conditions.

“If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interest we lose all moral authority to speak about human rights anywhere in the world,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in defending the bill on the House floor.

The bill was authored by Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, and had dozens of co-sponsors from both parties. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

House members also called for passage of a companion bill that would require all publicly-traded companies in the U.S. to disclose whether any of their goods or any part of their supply chain can be traced to internment camps or factories suspected of using the forced labor of ethnic minorities in China.

That bill was authored by Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat from northern Virginia whose district is home to one of the largest Uighur communities in the U.S. A vote on that measure was put on hold, perhaps until next week.