Major Corporations Lobby To Weaken Forced Labour Bill

On November 29th, U.S. congressional staff leaked that big companies were intensely lobbying Congress to weaken the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act and pass their own agendas. The Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act is an American bill that would prevent U.S. companies from selling goods that were produced in Xinjiang unless they have proof that the goods were not made with forced labour.

The Chinese region of Xinjiang is currently under close investigation by other countries and human rights organizations, as mass numbers of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic Muslims are facing detainment in what China calls “re-education camps.” In recent months, survivors have leaked reports that individuals within the camp are being forced to work without their consent and without receiving wages for their labour. Xinjiang is a large producer of raw materials, including cotton and tomatoes, and the camps contribute workers to many apparels, footwear, and electronics factories. Some of the world’s biggest corporations have been revealed to utilize this forced labour, with Apple, H&M, Nike, and Calvin Klein being among those implicated in this flagrant abuse of human rights.

The Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act passed through the House of Representatives in September with a vote of 406 to three, and individuals within the system have claimed that it has enough support to easily pass the Senate. Now, however, both congressional insiders and lobbying records show that numerous major corporations and business groups are lobbying to weaken the bill. The lobby, which includes Nike, Coca-Cola, Apple, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been pushing for numerous revisions, including the reduction of disclosure requirements to the public and a lengthened deadline to prove that forced labour is not in the supply chain. The corporations also demand that the American government be made responsible for identifying companies that use forced labour.

Nike has claimed that it was not lobbying the bills, but rather engaging in “constructive discussions” with staff over how to eliminate forced labour. In a statement to the New York Times, Coca-Cola staunchly denied having any type of forced labour in its supply chain. Apple has also denied any attempt to weaken the bill, asserting that forced labour is a serious issue, and one they scrutinize when assessing their suppliers.

Companies like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple have long faced scrutiny from human rights groups over labour abuses, exploitation, and terrible working conditions, especially in China and other Asian regions. Following this criticism, the corporations have made numerous assurances that they would change things in their supply partners and manufacturing companies and that they have moved to address any human rights concerns. While they support ending forced labour, the corporations claim, the bill could damage their supply chains in China.

The images corporations present us with don’t always translate into their actions. It’s difficult to be truly aware of what labour abuses might be happening behind the scenes, which makes it crucial to hold big corporations accountable for their actions. If these companies are so sure that their supply and manufacturing chains are free of forced labour, why are they lobbying so intensely to block the bill?

Peace Olanipekun
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