Should US businesses stop importing China’s alleged forced labor products?
- According to the US Department of State, the Uyghurs, a 'predominantly Muslim' minority group in Xinjiang, Western China, have been 'abducted and detained' in state-run internment camps intended 'to erase ethnic and religious identities under the pretext of 'vocational training.' Forced labor is a central tactic used for this repression.'
- In early December 2021, the US House of Representatives approved a bill 'imposing economic sanctions on China for goods sold to Americans from the forced labor of Muslim Uyghurs.' Senator Marco Rubio described the new bill as saying, “if products are made in that part of China, they are presumed to have been made by slave labor unless the manufacturer can prove it wasn't.'
- The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) maintains a complete list of goods produced by forced labor worldwide. In China, forced laborers make bricks, textiles, electronics, and several other traded goods.
- The most recent trade data from Statista reveals that in October 2021, the US imported over $48 billion worth of goods from China while exporting only about $16 billion to the country.
Ask any person about their views on forced labor, and the answer will most likely be they are against it. So why is it that the US turns a blind eye when products created with forced labor come from outside its borders? It is time that the US enforces the same standards for imported products as it does for domestically-made goods. Only in late 2021 has the issue been brought before the House of Representatives, and there's no guarantee that the bill will become law.
The fact is that Chinese forced labor pervades the US economy. It is seen in all of the US's major brands, from Apple to Nike. Because Chinese forced labor has existed without any consequences to the companies that use it, these major brands have become dependent on it as a means of cheap production--only to further a cycle of poverty internationally where future generations of families are affected.
However, endorsing forced labor from other countries also creates problems for the US domestically. Millions of American jobs have been lost due to the recent massive trade deficit with China. If American brands changed how they handled the international supply chain and brought manufacturing to the States, different wage standards could be implemented, creating millions of jobs.
Most notably, by allowing forced labor products, the US has created a system where wealth is built on exploiting particular groups of people. There is no escape for victims of forced labor, no way to climb a hierarchical ladder to escape poverty. For them, there is only exploitation. This is why the US must stop importing forced labor goods--especially from China--and create a system where everyone benefits economically AND morally.
The House of Representatives voted an overwhelming 428-1 to impose sanctions on Chinese goods allegedly produced by forced labor. Despite the majority's stance, the one person opposing them may have the right idea.
According to the Modern Slavery PEC Policy Brief 2021-3, there's very little evidence supporting the claim that such sanctions can prevent forced labor. Moreover, the evidence already collected indicates bans have a short-term impact, as businesses may only temporarily change their corporate practices to comply.
Most importantly, however, stopping the import of alleged forced labor goods from China will open another Pandora's box for the US. The relationship between both countries has reached its lowest point in decades during the past few years. In fact, the recent virtual summit between President Biden and Xi Jinping didn't result in any agreements or a joint statement on the issues affecting the relationship.
With relations between the countries stressful as is, many claims have surfaced as to why the sanctions were passed. One claim, for instance, is that China's rapid rise in income during the past 30 years is 'fueling a sense of decline and sharp disagreements' in the US. Therefore, the ban is allegedly a response to this change in income and power.
The ban will further add pressure on US manufacturers. Cellphones, for instance, are one of the top imports from China. Producing this on-shore will require multibillion-dollar investments from the government and the commitment of cellphone companies. Something even Apple isn't keen on doing.
So, for the sake of US-China relations--and their respective economies and people--it may be best to keep the status quo until a better alternative can be found.
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