A trip to an Asian grocery store in the United States is like a tour of the Orient. Pickled mustard greens from Thailand, instant noodles from Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China and packets of dried mushrooms and fruits fill the shelves of any Asian supermarket.
Some of these stores have drawn the attention of human rights researchers.
A report published this week by the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project has found markets in the Washington, D.C. metro area, and some online retailers in the United States continue to sell more than 70 brands of red dates grown and processed in the Xinjiang, an area of China that is subject to US forced labor law.
In December, President Joe Biden signed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA). Enforcement began in June. U.S. products wholly or partially manufactured in China’s northwest region of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are prohibited from entering the United States unless the importer can prove with evidence that they were not made by forced labor.
“This includes goods produced in other parts of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] or in other countries that incorporate goods that have been mined, produced, or manufactured in the XUAR or by entities on the UFLPA Entity List,” said a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official. United States at VOA.
The report, titled Fruits of Uyghur Forced Labor: Sanctioned Products on US Grocery Shelvessaid “US food retailers and consumers risk being complicit in forced labor and other atrocities” as long as Xinjiang red dates remain on US store shelves.
“Between February and August 2022, we investigated a dozen international grocery stores in the Washington, D.C. metro area and identified red date products from East Turkestan in seven stores,” the report said. “We also looked at international online grocery stores that ship red date products from the Uyghur region to the DC area.”
Most Uyghurs prefer to call the Uyghur region East Turkestan instead of Xinjiang, the name given by the Chinese.
According to the report, US online retailers including Amazon, eBay and Walmart are selling Xinjiang red dates.
“At least 15 U.S. companies import red dates for wholesale distribution to retailers, including Bloomington Import, Growland Inc., H&C Food Inc., OCM Globe Inc., and Tristar Food Wholesale Co., Inc,” the report said.
VOA contacted companies such as H&C Food Inc. and OCM Globe Inc., mentioned in the report, but received no response.
The report’s authors said they tried to contact the stores and distributors named in the report, but some of the emails bounced back. Others did not respond directly or only confirmed having received the correspondence.
Mukta Islam, a consumer from the state of Virginia that borders Washington, told VOA that any company should be vigilant about whether products are free of forced labor.
“Every company [is] supposed to support this law and not sell … and return them (Xinjing dates),” Islam said.
Report author Nuzigum Setiwaldi used global, US and Chinese trade data to trace the global supply chain of red dates.
“Twenty percent of the world’s red dates come from the Uyghur region and are likely the product of forced labor,” Setiwaldi said. “Ten percent of the world’s red dates are directly linked to XPCC (The Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps) and forced labor practices.”
The XPCC is a paramilitary employers’ organization of the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang. In 2020, the United States sanctioned the XPCC and other Chinese officials for their “link to serious violations of the rights of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang”. including forced labor.
The cotton connection
According to the Uyghur Human Rights Project report, the cultivation of red dates in Xinjiang is directly linked to cotton production through the practice of intercropping, a method of agricultural production where two crops are grown simultaneously in the same field.
The Uyghur law on the prevention of forced labor specifically identifies Xinjiang cotton, tomatoes and polysilicon as high priority sectors.
“The direct link between red dates and cotton production increases the likelihood of red date production being tainted by Uyghur forced labor,” the report said.
The report continued, XPCC data from 2018 showed that “Red date and cotton intercropping is the main form of fruit and cotton intercropping with almost 80% (1.6 million tons) of dates red produced on cotton farms in 2019”.
The United States accuses China of mistreating its Uighurs and other ethnic Turkic Muslim communities in Xinjiang, including the arbitrary detention of more than a million Uighurs in re-education camps, forced labor, forced sterilization of women and torture.
On Wednesday, a UN human rights report said Beijing’s labor regimes “involve elements of coercion” in Xinjiang, requiring clarification from Chinese authorities.
Beijing has repeatedly denied the charges and described the facilities as “vocational training schools” aimed at eradicating terrorist, extremist and separatist thoughts in people’s minds. China vehemently denies that Uighurs are forced into labor and said the Chinese government has implemented poverty reduction programs to help Uighurs.
“Some forces are manipulating Xinjiang-related issues and fabricating disinformation about ‘forced labor’ in Xinjiang. Basically, they are using human rights as a pretext to undermine Xinjiang’s prosperity and stability and contain China’s development and revitalization,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during a briefing. a press conference in August.
Navigating US Law
Setiwaldi said companies that import goods from Xinjiang, in order to comply with the UFLPA, should understand which products are at high risk of being made with Uyghur forced labor.
“American companies have not fully mapped their supply chains, making it difficult for CBP to identify and trace goods made with Uyghur forced labor. Many products may be exported from mainland China or through intermediary suppliers outside of China that appear to have no connection to the XPCC or even the Uyghur region,” Setiwaldi told VOA.
According to CBP, the agency receives numerous allegations of forced labor from a variety of sources, including government partners, reports from nongovernmental organizations, media coverage, first-hand accounts, and the general public.
“We will continue to use the resources at our disposal to assess these allegations and to identify and prevent goods made with forced labor from entering the U.S. market,” a CBP representative told VOA.