WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday barred 11 new Chinese companies from purchasing U.S. technology and products without a special license, saying the firms were complicit in human rights violations in China’s campaign targeting Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region.
The list of sanctioned companies includes current and former suppliers to major international brands including Apple, Ralph Lauren, Google, HP, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and Muji, according to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank established by the Australian government. The group cited the websites of the sanctioned Chinese companies, which mentioned their financial relationships with major American brands.
The administration’s announcement could precipitate more efforts by prominent clothing and technology brands to sever ties with opaque supply chains that touch on Xinjiang, a major source of cotton, textiles, petrochemicals and other goods that feed into Chinese factories.
Human rights groups and journalists have documented a campaign of mass detentions carried out by the Chinese government in Xinjiang, in which 1 million or more members of Muslim and other minority groups have been placed into large internment camps intended to increase their loyalty to the Communist Party. Some of these detainees are forced to work in factories in or near the camps, often processing Xinjiang’s abundant cotton crop into various textiles that may then be funneled into international supply chains.
A Times video investigation identified Chinese companies using a contentious labor program for Muslim Uighurs to satisfy demand for face masks and other personal protective equipment, some of which ended up in the United States and other countries.
Nine of the companies that the Trump administration cited on Monday, including Changji Esquel Textile Co. Ltd., Nanchang O-Film Tech and Hetian Taida Apparel Co. Ltd., were added to the so-called entity list for their use of forced labor, the Commerce Department said. Two other companies, Xinjiang Silk Road BGI and Beijing Liuhe BGI, were added for conducting genetic analyses that were used to further the repression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, according to the announcement.
The blacklist only prevents U.S. companies from selling components or technologies to Chinese companies without a license, not from purchasing products. In practice, however, major international brands are unlikely to continue doing business with any firm named on a government list for forced labor or other abuses in Xinjiang.
“Beijing actively promotes the reprehensible practice of forced labor and abusive DNA collection and analysis schemes to repress its citizens,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “This action will ensure that our goods and technologies are not used in the Chinese Communist Party’s despicable offensive against defenseless Muslim minority populations.”
The move comes amid rising tensions between the United States and China, and less than two weeks after the administration imposed sanctions on multiple Chinese officials for aiding in human rights abuses.
Trump held off on sanctions over China’s treatment of its Uighur minority for much of 2018 and 2019 in the interest of closing a trade deal with China, which he signed in January. Since then, the Trump administration has become more critical of China, blaming it for not doing enough to contain the coronavirus and rebuking a new security law that increases Beijing’s control over Hong Kong.
The announcement Monday is the latest step in the administration’s campaign to bar Chinese companies from buying products from U.S. companies. The United States had previously placed 37 companies on its entity list for violations related to Xinjiang. The Trump administration has also sanctioned a variety of Chinese technology companies, including Huawei, for national security threats.
One of the companies sanctioned Monday, Nanchang O-Film Tech, has said that it manufactured selfie cameras for some models of the iPhone, as well as other camera and touch screen components for Huawei, Lenovo and Samsung.
In December 2017, Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, visited O-Film’s Guangzhou factory, posting a picture of himself on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, according to the report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“Getting a closer look at the remarkable, precision work that goes into manufacturing the selfie cameras for iPhone 8 and iPhone X at O-Film,” the post read. According to a O-Film news release that has since been deleted, Cook praised the company’s “human approach towards employees” and said the workers seemed to be living “happily,” according to the ASPI report.
Before that visit, 700 Uighurs were transferred from Xinjiang to work at an O-Film factory in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, a move that was expected to “gradually alter their ideology” and increase their “gratitude toward the Party and contribute to stability,” the ASPI report said, citing a Xinjiang newspaper.
It remains unclear whether the government in Xinjiang ultimately supplied more workers to O-Film. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. O-Film could not immediately be reached for comment.
Another company on the list, Hefei Bitland Information Technology Co., has said on its website that its cooperative partners include Google, HP, Haier, iFlytek and Lenovo. Another listed company, Changji Esquel Textile Co. Ltd, also appears to have ties to major international brands, working with Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and Muji, according to the Chinese company’s website.
PVH, which owns the Tommy Hilfiger brand, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss and a representative for Muji in the U.S., where the brand is restructuring, did not immediately return requests for comment on Monday.
The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2019 that Esquel had set up three spinning mills in Xinjiang, and that the company had taken in at least 34 Uighur workers offered by Chinese officials. In a statement this April, Esquel denied that it had ever used forced labor and called the statements “completely false and deeply upsetting.”
In a letter to Ross on Monday, Esquel again said it did not and would never use forced labor, and asked to be removed from list.
“Where is the evidence that Esquel has ever, in its 25 years of operations in Xinjiang, used forced labor?” wrote John Cheh, the chief executive of Esquel Group. “No agency of any government nor any nongovernmental organization has presented such evidence, because it does not exist. In the lead up to including our Changji mill on the entity list, no one from the Commerce Department spoke with anyone at Esquel or we would have gladly provided them with the facts and answered any questions at that time.”
The companies on the entity list also include KTK Group, which supplies components for high-speed trains, and Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories Co. Ltd. On July 1, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized a shipment of 13 tons of hair products manufactured by Lop County Meixin Hair Product Co. Ltd. that it suspected were made with human hair originating in Xinjiang.