The supply chains of some of the world's largest home improvement stores and flooring brands are at risk of being tainted by use of forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China.
All seven of the PVC factories in the region, which produce 10 percent of the world's PVC, employ "transferred laborers" through state and corporate programs that "minoritized" citizens are not allowed to refuse.
The evidence of a widespread campaign of repression, internment, surveillance and forced labor prompted the United States to prohibit the import of any product made in whole or in part in the region starting June 21.
Under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which passed with bipartisan support in December, certain goods will be presumed to have been produced with forced labor and won't be allowed in the country.
Imports from XUAR could grind to a temporary halt.
The Uyghur region is being used as a source of cheap labor and cheap coal as well as a dumping ground for environmental hazards, according to authors of a new report Built on Repression: PVC Building Materials' Reliance on Labor and Environmental Abuses in the Uyghur Region.
The 42-page report says abuse of human labor and the environment in XUAR has significantly reduced the price of manufacturing both PVC and luxury flooring and other building materials worldwide.
The report, which is a collaboration between United Kingdom-based Sheffield Hallam University and Material Research L3C, an environment and public health research firm, is co-authored by Jim Vallette, Nyrola Elimä and Laura T. Murphy.
The authors put a spotlight on the Zhongtai Group, which has transferred more than 5,000 people deemed to be "surplus laborers" and whose PVC is in flooring and pipes recently installed in homes, schools and hospitals worldwide.
"Chinese officials boast about how many workers they force to work in their factories against their will," Murphy, a professor at Sheffield Hallam, said in a news release. "Their own reports show how the Zhongtai Group directly engages in labor transfers and ideological programming, and they celebrate doing so."
Beijing initially denied the existence of any detention camps, but then later admitted it had set up "vocational training centers" necessary to curb what it said was terrorism, separatism and religious radicalism in Xinjiang.
PVC from the region flooded global markets during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report says China kept running these plastics factories even while it shut down much of the country's industries during the pandemic, which treated Uyghur workers as disposable.
PVC flooring companies in the U.S. are leading purveyors of greenwash and have made an art of pretending their industry is something it isn't, according to Vallette, president of Material Research.
"They are selling cheap floors that look like wood or stone but are made from coal that is turned into plastic in the XUAR using mercury catalysts. They are profiting from forced labor and extreme pollution in the Uyghur region," Vallette said. "The biggest flooring companies in the world don't bother to tell their consumers anything about this, even as they collaborate with green building advocates on so-called transparency and climate neutrality initiatives."
Companies named in the report as customers of the flooring made of this PVC include retailer Home Depot and flooring industry leaders Armstrong, Congoleum, Mannington, Mohawk, Shaw, Tarkett and others.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released its first set of guidance relating to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) in the form of a website.
Importers of record must meet specified conditions and have clear evidence that their goods were not produced using forced labor. They will have the option to re-export prohibited cargo back to the country of origin.
"It's important to know that the level of evidence that's going be required by the Uyghur act is very high. It's going to require documentation, clear and convincing evidence, that the supply chain of the product that's being imported is free from forced labor," Elva Muneton, CBP's acting executive director for the UFLPA Implementation Task Force, told Reuters.
CBP will be able to issue penalties against importers in the case of fraud, she added.
To enforce the act, CBP has requested $70.3 million for additional employees, technology, and training,
The website with UFLPA-related guidance, FAQs, graphics and CBP contact information can be accessed at www.cbp.gov/trade/forced-labor/UFLPA.