House Passes Uyghur Anti-Slavery Bill Over Kerry's Objections

Kerry said bill would undermine climate negotiations with China

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December 15, 2021

The House passed a bill to ban Chinese imports made with Uyghur slave labor on Tuesday, putting the legislation on track to head to President Joe Biden’s desk for approval this week.

The bill will proceed to the Senate for a vote, and then to the White House where Biden is prepared to sign it into law, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

"The President welcomes the agreement by Congress on the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act," Psaki said. She added that the administration will also focus on adapting "key supply chains, including semiconductors and clean energy"—a reference to the solar panel market, which relies on a raw material sourced from the Uyghur region of China.

The law would be a significant blow to the Chinese government, companies that do business in Xinjiang, and to a faction of Biden administration officials. Climate envoy John Kerry and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had reportedly worked to stall the bill due to concerns that it would undermine the administration’s climate negotiations with China.

The news is also a victory for Uyghur advocates and supporters of the legislation, which languished for months in congressional limbo before the bill’s Senate sponsor Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) dragged it into the high-profile negotiations over the National Defense Authorization Act earlier this month. The renewed attention pressured House Democratic leadership to bring it to the floor for a vote.

Rubio praised the progress in a statement on Tuesday.

"The United States is so reliant on China that we have turned a blind eye to the slave labor that makes our clothes, our solar panels, and much more," Rubio said. "That changes today. Our Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act will require businesses importing goods into the United States to prove that their supply chains are not tainted with slave labor. It is time to end our economic addiction to China."

The House vote took place after Rubio and Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.), the bill’s sponsor in the House, reached an agreement on the text of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act on Tuesday.

The compromise agreement hews closely to the original House and Senate bills. It would bar imports from Xinjiang, the Uyghur region of China, under the presumption that the products are derived from forced labor, unless the importer provides "clear and convincing evidence" otherwise, according to the text of the House legislation. The law would go into effect 180 days after it is enacted.

The act passed the Senate in July but remained stalled in the House for months. In early December, Rubio tried to insert the bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to force the House to vote on it. Democratic Senate leadership blocked the move, but the ensuing attention increased pressure on Pelosi to introduce the original bill for a vote. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House last week, and both chambers negotiated on compromise legislation to send to Biden for final approval.