State Rep. Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix) is sponsoring legislation to block state and other public entities in Arizona from contracting for services or products from companies that use forced labor from the ethnic Uyghurs in China. Under HB 2488, companies that do business with the state will be required to certify in writing that they do not use that labor.
“As a student of history, I know what happens when good people remain silent,” said Wilmeth. “The Chinese Communist Party keeping millions of people locked in internment camps, which harkens back to the darkest chapters of the 20th century. HB 2488 sends a strong message that the State of Arizona won’t do business with anyone that turns a blind eye to this horrible human rights abuse.”
Since 2014, over 1 million Uyghurs, who are primarily Muslims of Turkish origin, have been removed from their homes in China’s Xinjiang province and sent to concentration camps, known as “reeducation camps,” where they are forced to do manual labor on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party. The government in the region, known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), has also carried out a campaign to forcefully reduce birth rates or “illegal births” using forced sterilization and birth control among Uyghurs, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
The federal government is already taking steps to combat the mistreatment of the Uyghurs. The CRS reports, “The U.S. government has responded by implementing targeted restrictions on trade with Xinjiang and imposing visa and economic sanctions on some PRC officials.”
President Joe Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) into law on December 23, 2021. It creates a rebuttable presumption that all goods manufactured even partially in the XUAR are the product of forced labor and therefore not entitled to entry at U.S. ports. It expands the 2020 Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act to cover foreign individuals responsible for human rights abuses related to forced labor.
Apple and other trade groups lobbied Congress last year to prohibit American firms from using Chinese forced labor. The NBA sparked outrage for doing business with one of these companies, Anta Sports, the largest sportswear brand in all of China. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) urged the U.S. to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics over the Uyghur abuse and other human rights violations.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) issued a list of 83 companies with ties to forced labor by Uyghurs in March 2020. While some of these companies cut off the relationship after being exposed, many took no action. Much of the labor forced on Uyghurs pertains to textile, apparel, agriculture, and consumer electronics. The offending companies are familiar luxury American clothing lines, regular clothing retailers, leading computer corporations, and car manufacturers.
An Arizona company ended its relationship with a staffing agency that hired Uyghur workers last fall after some U.S. senators sent a letter asking questions. Scottsdale-based Universal Electronics said in October, “We look forward to working with Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Rubio and Sen. Merkley on the questions they raised in the letter.”
HB 2488 has nine co-sponsors, including two Democrats: Majority Whip Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City), Assistant Minority Leader Jennifer Longdon (D-Phoenix), along with State Representatives Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix), Frank Carroll (R-Sun City West), Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale), Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix), Teresa Martinez (R-Casa Grande), Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott), and Amish Shah (D-Phoenix).
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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Arizona State Legislature” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.