Gulzira Auelkhan, an ethnic Kazakh who fled Xinjiang for Texas, said in the hearing that she had been imprisoned for 11 months in Xinjiang alongside ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs who were subject to torture and forced sterilization. She also spent two and a half months working in a textile factory making school uniforms for children and gloves, which her supervisors said were destined for the United States, Europe and Kazakhstan, she said through a translator.
It is already illegal to import goods made with slave labor. But for products that touch on Xinjiang, the law will shift the burden of proof to companies, requiring them to provide evidence that their supply chains are free of forced labor before they are allowed to bring the goods into the country.
Supply chains for solar products, textiles and tomatoes have already received much scrutiny, and companies in those sectors have been working for months to eliminate any exposure to forced labor. By some estimates, Xinjiang is the source of one-fifth of the world’s cotton and 45 percent of its polysilicon, a key material for solar panels.
But Xinjiang is also a major provider of other products and raw materials, including coal, petroleum, gold and electronics, and other companies could face a reckoning as the law goes into effect.
In the hearing on Friday, researchers and human rights activists presented allegations of links to forced labor programs for Chinese manufacturers of gloves, aluminum, car batteries, hot sauce and other goods.
Horizon Advisory, a consultancy in Washington, claimed in a recent report based on open-source documents that the Chinese aluminum sector had numerous “indicators of forced labor,” like ties to labor transfer programs and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which has been a target of U.S. government sanctions for its role in Xinjiang abuses.