China has been accused of genocide against the largely Muslim group, but Beijing says it is only tackling extremism.
The United States has warned of heightened risks for companies doing business in Xinjiang, where it accuses Beijing of an “ongoing genocide” and “crimes against humanity” against the Uighurs and other mainly Muslim ethnic minorities, warning firms could be liable to prosecution under US law.
In an updated business advisory issued on Tuesday, the US said there was “growing evidence” of forced labour, as well as other human rights abuses and “intrusive” surveillance.
“Given the severity and extent of these abuses, businesses and individuals that do not exit supply chains, ventures, and/or investments connected to Xinjiang could run a high risk of violating U.S. law,” the State Department said in a joint statement with the Treasury, Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Labor and the Office of the US Trade Representative also signed onto the advisory for the first time.
The United Nations estimates at least one million people have been held in recent years in a network of re-education camps in the far western region, which Beijing says are vocational skills training centres necessary to combat “extremism”.
Researchers have also documented other abuses including forced sterilisation, the demolition of mosques, clearance of Muslim cemeteries and family separations. Amnesty International last month accused China of creating a “dystopian hellscape” in Xinjiang.
The advisory says those wanting to do business in Xinjiang should be alert to the potential risks in connection with the development of surveillance tools, sourcing goods and labour from Xinjiang – or elsewhere along the supply chain in China – providing US products including software or aiding in the construction or operation of internment centres or factories nearby.
“The United States will continue to promote accountability for the PRC’s atrocities and other abuses through a whole-of-government effort and in close coordination with the private sector and our allies and partners.” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.
The advisory noted the lack of transparency but urged companies to carry out “heightened” due diligence, warning there was a risk of prosecution for those found – even indirectly – to be supporting the Chinese government’s surveillance system in the region or providing financial backing to businesses linked to human rights abuses.
Any firms with existing investments and business operations that could be affected should consider “responsible divestment”, it added.
The US has already blacklisted several Chinese companies over their operations in Xinjiang, as well as imposing sanctions on key officials over the alleged rights abuses.
At least 10 more Chinese companies are expected to be added to the blacklist this week.
The US first published the Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory in July last year.