WASHINGTON — The Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to approve legislation that would ban the import of a wide array of products made in China’s Xinjiang region in a drive to prevent companies from sourcing goods produced through forced labor by persecuted Muslim minorities.
Its passage was a victory for supporters of an aggressive human rights measure that faced a fierce corporate lobbying campaign from businesses that argued it was too onerous and would disrupt global supply chains. The vote sent the measure to President Biden’s desk, where he was expected to sign it into law.
The bill represents the most forceful legislative response yet to China’s campaign against the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, which the Biden administration has called a genocide. It would impose a high standard for companies seeking to import products from the region, banning goods made “in whole or in part” in Xinjiang unless companies are able to prove to customs officials that the products were not made with forced labor.
“Many companies have already taken steps to clean up their supply chains,” said Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and one of the authors of the bill. “They should have no concerns about this law. For those who have not done that, they’ll no longer be able to continue to make Americans — every one of us, frankly — unwitting accomplices in the atrocities, in the genocide that’s being committed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
The legislation had stalled for months on Capitol Hill, even as lawmakers decried the severity of China’s wide-scale repression of Uyghurs. Those offenses have included administering forced sterilizations and abortions, and placing Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in concentration camps, where they have faced torture and sexual abuse.
Few officials or companies wanted to publicly push back against the legislation, wary of the optics of appearing indifferent to genocide. But behind the scenes, the bill’s tough standard — which presumes that all goods produced in the region are made with forced labor unless companies can prove otherwise — alarmed some corporations, lawmakers and Biden administration officials who feared it was overly broad.
Roughly one in five cotton garments sold globally contains cotton or yarn from Xinjiang, and the region produces a significant portion of the world’s polysilicon, which is used to make solar panels and smartphones. Some administration officials worried that the standard at the heart of the bill would cripple already disrupted supply chains and create additional roadblocks to meeting the nation’s climate goals, according to congressional aides familiar with the discussions.
Companies including Nike, Coca-Cola and Apple also lobbied Congress in an attempt to weaken that provision.
But lawmakers coalesced around a compromise version of the legislation earlier this week and pushed it through, a burst of momentum that came after Mr. Rubio held up consideration of the annual defense policy bill, demanding that the Senate turn its attention to the forced labor measure.
The final version retained the tough importation standard for companies, but stripped out a related measure that would have required companies to disclose any involvement in a wide range of activities conducted in the Xinjiang region. That reporting requirement, vehemently opposed by large companies, was met with resistance from some lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee.
Earlier this week, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, confirmed in a statement that Mr. Biden would sign the bill into law, noting that the White House had earlier cracked down on forced labor in the supply chain for solar panels made in Xinjiang by banning products made by specific companies.
“The administration will work closely with Congress to implement this bill to ensure global supply chains are free of forced labor, while simultaneously working to onshore and third-shore key supply chains, including semiconductors and clean energy,” Ms. Psaki said.
Legislative drama dogged the legislation until the end. Attempts by Mr. Rubio to expedite the bill’s passage on Wednesday were halted by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, who tried to attach an extension of an expiring child tax credit payment, which Republicans widely oppose, to the anti-forced labor measure.
“Getting this bill over the finish line and into law ensures that American consumers and businesses can buy goods without inadvertent complicity in China’s horrific human rights abuses,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon and a co-sponsor of the legislation. “As the Chinese government tries to whitewash their genocide and claim a propaganda victory with the upcoming Olympics, this legislation sends a powerful, bipartisan message that the United States will not turn a blind eye.”
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