President Donald Trump's administration is ratcheting up pressure on China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, where the United Nations cites credible reports that about 1 million Muslims held in camps have been put to work.
Four companies and a manufacturing facility in northwestern China were blocked Monday from shipping their products to the USA because of their suspected reliance on forced labor from people detained as part of a massive campaign against ethnic minorities in the region.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, dismissed the notion that the facility is a "vocational" center as has been portrayed by Chinese authorities.
The items include cotton, garments, hair products and electronics from five specific manufacturers in Xinjiang as well as adjacent Anhui.
It also issued detention orders earlier this year on hair weaves and other beauty products produced in Xinjiang by a company suspected of involvement in human rights abuses. "This is modern day slavery".
The United States, like other Western countries and many worldwide organizations, accuses Beijing of carrying out large-scale persecution of Uyghurs and of arbitrarily interning more than one million Muslims in Xinjiang in camps.
But in July, the US sanctioned Chinese Communist Party officials, the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) for their role in constructing and operating "re-education" camps, where over 1 million Uighurs have been detained.
It also hit several officials with sanctions, including Chen Quanguo, the Chinese Communist Party chief for the Xinjiang region and architect of Beijing's hardline policies against restive minorities.
"These actions send a clear message to the PRC that it is time to end its practice of state-sponsored forced labor and to respect the human rights of all people", Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Customs and Border Protection officials told Reuters last week that they had prepared the broader bans on cotton, cotton textiles and tomatoes, among China's biggest commodity exports, along with the orders announced on Monday.
In August the Investor Alliance for Human Rights called for a ban on all cotton-made goods linked to Xinjiang, which supplies the lion's share of China's cotton.