A Uyghur refugee is advocating passage of bipartisan legislation that would prevent Chinese goods made by Uyghur slave labor from entering the U.S. market.
Kuzzat Altay, 36, a Uyghur-American tech entrepreneur and human rights activist, arrived in the U.S. in 2008 as a refugee with no English skills and few contacts.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Kuzzat lamented how China has used its economic superpower status in the last 20 years since becoming a member of the World Trade Organization to enslave ethnic minorities like Uyghurs.
“The reason we brought China into the World Trade Organization is because we believed at that time, [President Bill] Clinton believed, that opening up the Chinese economy would bring China to democracy. Unfortunately, China made lots of money with that change,” he said.
“As China made more money, they became more of a dictatorship using their money. They’re buying more influence around the world. And recently, we found out, there are millions of Uyghurs used as slave labor for ‘made-in-China’ products.”
Mr. Kuzzat noted that it is nearly impossible to tell if a “Made in China” product involves forced labor.
“So, I think it’s very important, ethically, to not buy anything made in China. The second reason is, Chinese super-power is coming from the Chinese economy,” he said.
“I believe that China is using their economy to oppress our people, innocent people, Uyghurs, Christians, Muslims in China. So, it is important to stop made-in-China products coming into the United States, because of that reason.”
There are estimated to be 12 million Uyghurs, mainly Muslim, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China. They have their own language, which is similar to Turkish.
The bill, known as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, was introduced in the Senate in June and passed the following month. It was spearheaded by Sens. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, and Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat.
The legislation, co-sponsored by 27 Republicans and 27 Democrats and passed by voice vote, seeks to stop the importation of all goods made by forced labor in Xinjiang.
Citing testimony from former detainees, leaked Chinese government documents and satellite imagery, the bill acknowledges how China’s government forces Uyghurs to work in industries and supply chains in Xinjiang. The industries include automobile, beverage, technology and clothing.
Global companies like Nike, Apple and Coca-Cola reportedly lobbied against the bill, when it first surfaced in the House last year, but each company disputed this to be untrue and claimed they did not use forced labor to make their products.
Senate lawmakers are waiting for the House to take up the legislation.
However, the lower chamber last September passed a bill with an identical title with an overwhelming 406 yes votes. It never made it to the Senate floor in time to send to then-President Donald Trump for full passage into law.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to beat the clock this time around.
“As the Chinese Communist Party is committing egregious human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, including genocide and crimes against humanity, there is no excuse to turn a blind eye. We must instead do everything in our power to stop them.” Mr. Rubio said in a statement. “This bill is an important step in that direction. My bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would ensure that the CCP is not profiting from its abuses by stopping products made with Uyghur forced labor from entering our supply chains.”
Mr. Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. must ban the importation of these goods “to ensure that we are not complicit in the genocide, and fully commit ourselves to holding the perpetrators accountable for these atrocities.”
“For years, the Chinese government has been committing genocide in Xinjiang, subjecting Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities to torture, imprisonment, forced labor, and pressure to abandon their religious and cultural practices,” he added.
The Chinese Embassy repeatedly has denied allegations from dissidents and U.S. lawmakers that “forced labor” occurs in the country.
“There is no ‘forced labor’ in Xinjiang, only voluntary employment and free choice in the labor market,” Chinese diplomat Hua Chun Ying has stated. “Workers of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang choose [a] profession of their own free will, sign labor contracts with employers voluntarily following the principle of equality, and receive payment for their work.”
Mr. Kuzzat, who says his father remains in “house prison” in China, plans for an Oct. 1 event at 1 p.m. in front of the Lincoln Memorial in support of the legislation to end forced labor in China.
“The reason we chose that place is because Lincoln was the one that freed the slaves,” he said.