By Michael Robinson, ICR Washington Consultant
The bottom line up front: The December 2021 passage of The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act – which forbids all imports from Xinjiang, China into the U.S. unless importers can prove that the products were made without forced labor – puts a new onus on companies to provide detailed proof to the U.S. Government.
This law significantly increases the legal, operational, and reputational risks companies who import from Xinjiang face.
Driven by Washington’s largely bipartisan “Get Tough on China” approach, this escalation is in response to years of allegations that the Chinese government is engaged in genocide against the ethnic Uyghur population in Xinjiang.
Importantly, this law imposes a new presumption of guilt on importers of Xinjiang-sourced products and materials and makes it their responsibility to provide documentation to demonstrate that their supply chains are free from forced labor. The precise mechanism for providing this assurance is currently in development (see below).
Given the Chinese government’s hostility to the allegations of genocide in general, and to this legislation in particular, companies are already finding it difficult to navigate between these competing forces. A broad range of U.S. companies across multiple sectors continue to look for the right formulation to satisfy both parties, with varying degrees of success. At the same time, Chinese suppliers are understandably fearful of offending their government by working with their overseas customers to comply with the law’s requirements – making it even more difficult for importers to garner the full transparency this law requires.
With President Biden’s signature on December 22, 2021, a 180-day process began during which the strategy to implement the law will be developed.
The U.S. Government’s Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force (chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security and includes representatives from the Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative) will work with the Director of National Intelligence and the Commerce Department to develop the specific plan for how U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will enforce the law. The strategy will be submitted to Congress and updated annually.
The law outlines a series of opportunities for public input for consideration as the enforcement plan is being developed. They include:
Companies now have a window during which they can work to influence the ultimate shape of the law’s enforcement parameters, as well as prepare in advance for how they want to communicate about its impact on their business. Among the steps companies can take:
ICR will continue to monitor these developments and share updates throughout the process. In the meantime, we’re available to provide additional insight on the law, its implications, and company-specific recommendations for stakeholder engagement. Get in touch.