US to block goods from Chinese company over rights abuses

FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, file photo, a guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen around a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region. The U.S. Customd snd Border Protection on Wednesday said it will block imports from a major Chinese producer of cotton goods for its suspected use of workers detained as part of a crackdown on ethnic minorities in China's northwest. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, file photo, a guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen around a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region. The U.S. Customd snd Border Protection on Wednesday said it will block imports from a major Chinese producer of cotton goods for its suspected use of workers detained as part of a crackdown on ethnic minorities in China's northwest. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File) (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. said Wednesday it would block imports from a major Chinese producer of cotton goods because of its reliance on workers detained as part of a crackdown on ethnic minorities in China's northwest.

Customs and Border Protection issued an order halting shipments from the state-controlled Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. Any U.S. company seeking to import goods from the company would have to prove they were not made with the forced labor of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities subjected to the crackdown.

China swiftly denounced the measure, with foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying calling it a deliberate effort to use “false news" to “restrict and suppress relevant Chinese parties and enterprises and curb China’s development."

In July, the U.S. Treasury added XPCC to a sanctions list that prohibits Americans from conducting any financial transactions with the company. It is the sixth enterprise from the Uighur region whose goods have been blocked by Customs in recent months.

Still, the new order represents an escalation of U.S. efforts to pressure China over its campaign in Xinjiang, where authorities have imprisoned more than 1 million people in brutal conditions as part an effort to force ethnically and culturally distinct minorities to assimilate into the dominate Han Chinese culture.

XPCC controls about a third of cotton production in the Uighur region and about 6% of all cotton globally, according to the Worker Rights Consortium, a nongovernmental organization.

“CBP’s action is a body-blow to every brand that intends to continue sourcing cotton from the Uighur Region,” Scott Nova, the group's executive director, said in a statement.

U.S. officials, in announcing the trade measure, did not name any companies that have imported goods produced by XPCC.