On May 14, 2020, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (the “Act”). Introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the Act aims to direct U.S. resources to address human rights violations and abuses, including forced labor, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwestern China. Credible research and investigations have pointed out that more than 1,000,000 ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Muslim minority groups have been detained in internment camps where they face political indoctrinations, torture, beatings, food deprivation, forced labor, and other human rights abuses.

If passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the President, the Act would require the President to submit a report to Congress identifying any official of the Government of China that is responsible for the denial of human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Sanctions will then be imposed against each individual identified in the President’s report. Such sanctions shall include blocking the property of identified individuals and denying admission to the United States. Importantly, these sanctions shall not include the authority or a requirement to impose sanctions on the importation of goods into the U.S.

In addition to sanctions, the Act would require the Secretary of State to submit a report on human rights abuses in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to Congress. The report must include detailed information regarding the number of individuals detained in internment camps; a description of the conditions in such camps, including an assessment of methods of torture and other human rights abuses; the number of individuals in forced labor camps; methods used to reeducate detainees in the camps, including identification of government agencies in charge of reeducation; and an assessment of the use of forced labor and a description of foreign industries and companies benefitting from such labor.

The Act differs in substantial ways from a prior bill, also introduced by Sen. Rubio that was introduced in the Senate on March 12, 2020. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would have gone further to create a rebuttable presumption that goods produced by labor occurring in Xinjiang China, or by persons working with the Region’s government under poverty alleviation or mutual pairing assistance programs are prohibited for entry into the U.S. This bill would have flipped the burden of proof under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930. Normally, before prohibiting entry of goods into the U.S due to suspected use of forced labor, the U.S. Government must demonstrate that information reasonably indicates that the goods were produced using forced labor. The Forced Labor Prevention Act would flip this burden, requiring importers to demonstrate that goods produced in Xinjiang, China were not produced using forced labor before entry into the U.S. would be permitted. In addition, the Forced Labor Prevention Act would have required the imposition of sanctions as required under the Act.

Whether or not either of these bills is signed into law, it is likely that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will be more diligent in its forced labor enforcement activity, which may have broad implications for goods imported from China and other regions suspected of using forced labor.