A new U.S. forced-labour law is about to test our consumption habits
, 2022-06-05 03:00:00,
Here’s an uncomfortable thought experiment for the next time you’re standing before your wardrobe, running your fingertips through your garments.
Count five items containing cotton. Stop at the fifth garment. Now imagine an enslaved human being. Because by this point, you’re statistically likely to own their work.
Rayhan Asat thinks about this constantly. She’s a U.S.-based lawyer who comes from an oppressed minority region of China where forced labour is systemic and which produces one-fifth of the world’s cotton.
Asat hasn’t seen her brother in six years. And when she looks at clothing, she remembers people like him in forced detention and wonders if it was spawned from their suffering.
“I often think about it,” said Asat, a fellow at Yale Law and the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
“Every time I’m mindful: Is this made in China? Does it mean it’s tainted with forced labour? Is it one of my family members?”
Soon, we’ll all be confronted more directly with this reality, courtesy of U.S. lawmakers. Our clothing and our conscience are on a collision course this month.
There’s a mounting pile of detailed evidence of human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs in China’s Muslim region of Xinjiang, a hub for cotton, tomato paste and solar-panel production.
And there’s a specific date when things are supposed to change: June 21.
That’s the day a new U.S. law takes effect, aimed at reordering international supply chains by altering the behaviour of any company that sells goods to the U.S.
Critics of the measure warn it will cause economic chaos.
What happens June 21
The Forced Labor Prevention Act would penalize importers and…
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