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Sen. Merkley Warns of E-Commerce Pushing Chinese Slave Labor Products

Leo Timm
Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: August 1, 2023
Senator Jeff Merkley, (D-OR), speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "Review of the FY2023 State Department Budget Request," in Washington, DC, on April 26, 2022. (Image: BONNIE CASH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley as well as other U.S. lawmakers have called attention to loopholes in U.S. trade policy that could be facilitating a deluge of low-price products made by slave labor in Communist China — and marketed aggressively to American buyers by Chinese e-retailers.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, passed in 2021 and promulgated the following June, bans products from China’s Xinjiang region from being imported to the United States unless it can be proved no slave labor is used in their manufacture.

But under current U.S. policies, products that valued less than $800 are typically not subject to import duties, which means they likely face less scrutiny at customs.

Two up-and-coming Chinese e-commerce apps, Shein and Temu, are believed to make widespread use of the $800 threshold, called the “de minimis” provision, by avoiding bulk shipping. By sending small packages, these companies capitalize on China’s cheap labor and favorable postal rights to sell and ship price-beating goods to American doorsteps — often outcompeting local suppliers and major U.S. retailers alike.


A report by the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party released in June found that Shein and Temu accounted for a third of parcels imported under the de minimis threshold in 2022, while nearly half of the total shipments came from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

According to Sen. Merkley, a Democrat, the U.S. government must do more to ensure that products made with slave labor in China don’t get marketed and sold to Americans.

Merkley is also co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), which monitors the state of human rights and rule of law in the PRC.

Speaking with The Epoch Times in Washington, D.C., Merkley said that it was “a big deal to say the products made with forced labor can’t come to the U.S.,” and that the authorities had to live up to that statement. “The “Uyghur community, having been enslaved in an incredible, science fiction, high-track fashion is of concern to anybody who loves freedom in the world and who cares about human rights.”

Referring to the 2021 forced labor act, Merkley added that if the behavior of Chinese e-retailers “bypasses that in any way, that’s a problem.”

In addition to Xinjiang, where more than 1 million members of the Uyghur ethnic minority and other groups are incarcerated as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts to subjugate the locals, slave labor or labor for extremely low wages is used across China by the regime, often targeting religious and political prisoners.

According to the House Select Committee’s June report, Temu had failed to enforce even the appearance of a “meaningful compliance program” to filter out goods made by PRC slave labor.