December 15, 2020
"We should state this truth over and over again: Chairman Xi’s dictatorship is enslaving more than half a million Uyghurs and they are being forced to pick blood cotton… The Chinese Communist Party is convinced that the American people and that the institutions of the United States Government will simply look away."
Tonight on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, condemned the Chinese Communist Party’s use of Uyghur slave labor in the cotton industry. More than half a million Muslim Uyghurs are enslaved in Xinjiang and forced to hand-pick blood cotton. Sasse’s remarks follow a new report from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s Dr. Adrian Zenz.
A transcript of Senator Sasse’s remarks is found below.
Mr. President, I rise because in a few minutes I must ask unanimous consent to enter into the record a new report released last night by Adrian Zenz of the Victims of Communism Foundation. Now, it isn’t often that we enter into the Congressional Record reports that are really things that we want our constituents to read, but this report is different.
This report is a report that every American needs to know about because it makes clear two things.
First, it makes clear that cotton from Xinjiang - which is about 20 percent of all the world’s cotton, it’s about 85 percent of all the cotton coming out of China, but it’s about 20 percent of the global cotton, and it’s a lot of the best cotton on the globe - is stained by slave labor. And the second thing that it makes clear is that a lot of this cotton is destined for the United States.
We are the ones demanding it and our people are making a market for this blood cotton.
Mr. President, under the guise of Orwellian terms like “poverty alleviation,” the Chinese Communist Party is for forcibly mobilizing minority labor, the Uyghurs, to replace the majority Han Chinese labor market that has traditionally picked some of the Xinjiang cotton. Very young and very elderly folks are often sent into facilities and everyone in between, everybody who has a body that can move into the fields is being sent into these cotton fields for the months long cotton-picking season.
Now picking cotton is backbreaking labor and these Uyghurs that are being forced to do this as slaves are under constant surveillance, they’re subjected to very long work hours, and they’re forced to participate in political indoctrination sessions. Some of today’s pickers have also done shifts and turns in CCP internment camps as well.
We should be very clear about what is happening here. What is happening here is an unmitigated evil. There isn’t another interpretation for this slave labor that is producing the Xinjiang blood cotton.
This is an unmitigated evil and it is obviously far more comfortable to ignore evil than to confront it head on. And despite our many promises, it is easy to forget the human toil of totalitarianism. It is easier to just look away. And that is of course what the communist leadership in Beijing is counting on. They’re counting on the fact that the U.S. citizens and corporate leadership and politicians will just be busy and will say, ‘Well that would just be messy to have to confront so we should just look away. We said we would never forget, but let’s just not notice.'
So, we should state this truth over and over again. Chairman Xi’s dictatorship is enslaving more than half a million Uyghurs and they are being forced to pick blood cotton. That is what this report from the Victims of Communism Foundation last night clearly demonstrates. The Chinese Communist Party is convinced that the American people and that the institutions of the United States Government will simply look away. So, we need to say again and again that Chairman Xi’s dictatorship is enslaving more than half a million Uyghurs, they’re being forced into slavery in the cotton fields, much of that cotton is destined for U.S. markets, and Chairman Xi and his underlings are counting on the fact that though America raises a light of liberty in our rhetoric they are expecting that we will just look away in practice and in fact in our marketplaces.
We should not and we cannot give them that victory, Mr. President.
Beijing’s Communist Party does not care about basic human dignity. The genocidal leaders that are running the government in Beijing - and again we need to distinguish every time we talk about topics like this, we need to distinguish between the leadership of the Communist Party in Beijing and the regular 1.4 billion Chinese citizens, many of whom have nothing to do with these evils and wouldn’t countenance them if they had the power. But the genocidal leadership of the Communist Party in Beijing is running systematically oppressive slave regimes against Muslims and against other ethnic minorities. Their cruelty is unmatched. They are ripping families apart. They are forcibly separating children from parents, they forcibly separate husbands and wives, they send goons in to rape the wives whose husbands have been sent away hoping that they can impregnate them with other ethnic children to sort of extinguish the Uyghur population in this region. They’re brainwashing children. They have weaponized forced abortions and sterilization. They have systematically demolished mosques.
What is happening in Xinjiang is not grey. What is happening in Xinjiang is evil.
Chairman Xi’s underlings do not believe that the Uyghurs are human and the racist Chinese Communist Party in Beijing believes that these men and women are little better than animals, and that they can be exploited as slaves. In Xinjiang, cotton is king.
How does Beijing try to explain this away? Well of course there are a whole bunch of lies that they try to use to cover it up. According to their propaganda, the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are lazy people and they need help to overcome their laziness. They need to learn about work and they need to be helped out of poverty. These are the sort of the top-line versions of their disgusting lies, but they don’t really think that anybody is persuaded by these lies. What they expect is that the money will do the persuading for them. They don’t think that these lies are rolled out in a way that is really going to really be compelling to anyone. What they really expect is that they won’t pay attention to where high-quality, cheap cotton often comes from and that we’ll just look away.
Here’s the painful truth: The global supply chains that have benefited from this blood cotton have gotten some really good cotton at really cheap prices. In 2019 an estimated 70% of Xinjiang’s cotton was picked by hand, making it some of the highest quality cotton in the world. Some of the most desirable cotton at any marketplace and its incredibly cheap because it’s picked by salve labor. Xinjiang produces about 85% of China’s cotton and about 20% of the world’s cotton. It is impossible to separate blood cotton from the small minority that is not picked in these slave fields
And here’s what it means in America and around the world: it means that we are living in a sea of hypocrisy, because we have a whole bunch of U.S. companies that celebrate individuality, individualism, make some unbelievably good commercials, and talk about the expansion of human potential, at the same time being cosponsors of slave fields. That’s what we’re talking about here, and we can’t and we shouldn’t simply look away.
The extensiveness of the CCP’s forced labor programs are such that many U.S. companies -- including at least 82 identifiable global brands -- have benefitted from the Xinjiang, slave-cotton labor. Gap and Nike are two of the companies that are most obviously singled out, and the CCP has helped them cut their costs and expand their market access. In exchange, what they ask for is a really polite see-no-evil policy. The commercials that are aired in the primetime in major sporting events of the U.S. are aired by companies that at the same time say, “Please don’t ask us about our supply chains. We don’t want to have to give any account for that.” These companies spend billions of dollars running ad campaigns touting values like self-determination, and yet they are quietly importing communist values, particularly about the lack of human dignity. We don’t want those values imported into the United States. We don’t want to look away. We don’t want to be people who say, “Never again and never forget.” And then to just casually say, “I’m never going to notice.” We don’t want to be those people.
Today, I’ve written letters to both Gap and Nike asking them to help. Asking them to please help make transparent to the American people what they know about their supply chains and how we should clean them up. We need to tackle the problem of this blood cotton from Xinjiang, and we need to give the American public, the American consumer, a transparent look into what these supply chains look like, where they come from, and how much blood they are tainted with.
In the coming weeks, I and others will be reaching out to more companies than Gap and Nike, but those are the two letters I sent today. Americans in government and business, and even Americans as we go to the store with our wallets, and we as consumers in the retail marketplace, we need to be aware of what’s happening. We need to be a people that believe in defending human rights.
The unjust status quo is very profitable and so many companies are fighting this change. They’re fighting this transparency. As attention in Congress has turned towards supply chain integrity concerns in recent months, companies have begun to deploy high-paid lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Americans who believe strongly in human rights and fundamental freedoms have been justifiably confused about these efforts to weaken legislation that seeks to ban imported goods that’s made with Chinese Communist Party’s slave labor.
Business that claim a fundamental respect for human dignity ought to share with their consumers and with their shareholders how they ensure the integrity of their supply chains. Because again, 20% of the world’s cotton comes from this part of China, and 85% of that cotton looks like it’s tainted by blood cotton.
Companies need to come clean if they have been asked by the CCP to stay silent about the human rights abuses in China. Companies need to re-evaluate the costs and the benefits - and the costs are high - of partnering with a genocidal regime. They need to do it themselves. These companies need to do it themselves because it’s right, and they need to be pushed to do it because it’s hard, and because the competitive marketplace has many of their other peer companies and competitor companies also benefitting from this same slave cotton.
The United States Congress has become increasingly concerned about the Chinese Communist Party’s pay-to-play shakedown of American companies. There is currently a bill under consideration in this body that forces a long overdue review of supply chains, and there are going to be many more bills and pieces of legislation like this coming. And companies, even if they don’t want to do it for the right reason, should do it for the pragmatic reason of getting in front of this, because this attention is not going to go away. The concern in this body and in this congress is bipartisan about the blood in the slave supply chains in many of these industries.
The United States celebrates the ideals of universal human dignity. The Chinese Communist Party explicitly rejects these ideals. In this ideological competition, Beijing is working to exploit something. They are working to exploit the moral concessions of American CEOs. CEOs and boards, you need to do better. American consumers, you need to ask hard questions, and this congress needs to do some serious investigating.
American global companies that find their roots in the freedom-loving worlds and countries, and that express our public support for fundamental human freedoms that produce their success, must act now. There is more to do than maximize the bottom line. That is not the only value. The Senate is increasingly willing to act to ensure that American companies do not import misguided Chinese Communist Party values into these shores.
Right now it is too easy, it is too comfortable, and it is too profitable for many American and global companies to simply ignore the evil. We need to make the suffering in Xinjiang known. We need to speak about the Uyghurs. These men, women, and children have God-given dignity, and we should not look away. Americans need to know about this evil so that we can together confront it. We need to dismantle the Chairman Xi’s lies. We need to make it unconscionable for American businesses to profit from Chairman Xi’s injustices.
And so, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that we would enter into the Congressional record this report from the Victims of Communism Foundation, released last night, about the blood slave labor in Xinjiang.
Senator Roberts: Without objection, it is so ordered.
Senator Sasse: Thank you, Mr. President.