Dems Signal End to Obstruction of Uyghur Anti-Slavery Bill

Sen. Ron Wyden, who blocked bill, backed down Wednesday

Chinese labor camp, Xinjiang / Getty Images
December 16, 2021

A bill to sanction China's use of Uyghur slave labor is likely to make its way to the White House for approval after a top Democrat late Wednesday evening removed his hold on the legislation.

Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) was the latest Democrat to block the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which will sanction China for its genocide of the Uyghur ethnic minority and ban all imports originating from the country's Xinjiang region. Wyden put a hold on the bill as he sought to extend child tax credits into next year. Republican leaders blasted Wyden, prompting him to back off the hold and today permit the Senate to vote on the Uyghur bill, which will likely pass with bipartisan support.

Democratic leaders in the House tried multiple times to stall the legislation and stripped a version of it from the annual defense spending bill. Republicans accused the Biden administration of waging a stealth lobbying campaign against the legislation to avoid agitating Beijing as talks over a climate deal unfold. The bill passed the House last week but was stopped from being sent to the Senate by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), who relented after Republican leaders admonished her.

After months of wrangling, the legislation is now set to be passed by the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden, who signaled on Wednesday that he is prepared to do so. Still, Republicans say the battle over the bill is a result of pro-China corporate lobbying and the Biden administration's desire to ink a climate deal with Beijing. Climate envoy John Kerry and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman reportedly worked to stall the bill over concerns that it would undermine the administration's climate negotiations with China.

Large corporations that do business with China view the legislation as harmful for their business dealings. Footwear conglomerate Nike, for instance, is a prolific Wyden donor. "He is bought and controlled by Nike, who is headquartered in his home state and profits off of the slave work this bill would prohibit," Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) tweeted late Wednesday.

Nike since 2020 has spent $1,920,000 lobbying the government on the Uyghur Act and other issues, according to lobbying disclosures. The company since 2001 has donated $67,500 to Wyden through its political action committee, including $15,000 since last year. Nike chief executive John Donahoe on Sept. 18 gave maximum donations of $5,800 to Wyden for his primary and general election races. Donahoe, who also contributed to Wyden's campaign in 2015, recently came under fire for describing Nike as "a brand of China and for China."

Other large companies that donated to Wyden also lobbied against the Uyghur bill. Dell Technologies and the United States Telecom Association, for instance, also have contributed to Wyden's campaign while lobbying against the Uyghur bill. Dell on April 12 gave $5,000 to Wyden's campaign, marking the computer maker's first ever contribution to Wyden. The United States Telecom Association on June 28 gave Wyden's campaign $2,500.

Dell has spent $180,000 to lobby on a variety of issues, including the Uyghur Act, while the United States Telecom Association has spent $140,000, according to lobbying records.