Politics

After Delay, Senate Unanimously Passes Uyghur Forced Labor Bill

DREW ANGERER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Michael Ginsberg Congressional Reporter
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After a series of false starts and delays, the Senate passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act by voice vote Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, targets slave labor in Xinjiang and surrounding provinces, where China is conducting a genocide of the Uyghur people. It passed the House by voice vote Tuesday and is expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act creates a “rebuttable presumption” that goods produced in Xinjiang or by certain listed Chinese business entities are produced by the forced labor of Uyghurs or other ethnic minorities. Companies may continue to import products from Xinjiang if they provide “clear and convincing evidence” to the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection that their supply chains do not include forced labor.

“It’s already illegal, by the way, to bring goods made with slave labor; it’s been that way since the 1930s. And yet it’s still happening,” Rubio said on the Senate floor. “Many companies have already taken steps to clean up their supply chains. And, frankly, 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 bill’s passage was thrown into doubt on multiple occasions. First, the White House reportedly lobbied Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, the lead Democratic co-sponsor, to slow the bill down. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer later removed the bill from the National Defense Authorization Act.

When the bill finally came to the Senate floor Wednesday night, Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden objected to its passage, demanding a vote on the American Rescue Plan’s expanded child tax credit, which is due to expire. Wyden later announced that he would not object to the bill’s passage twice. (RELATED: Nike Executives Funneled Money To Democrat Who Just Blocked Uyghur Forced Labor Bill)

The bill’s passage unlocks three votes to confirm Biden nominees to key State Department positions. Rubio and Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy agreed that the Republican would drop his objections to Nicholas Burns, nominated to be Ambassador to China, Ramin Toloui, nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State, and Rashad Hussain, nominated to be Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, in exchange for Murphy’s lack of objection to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.