Surrounded by a few hundred Uyghur, Tibetan, and Hong Kong activists, NBA player Enes Kanter led a rally in front of Capitol Hill on Saturday, calling on China to stop Uyghur forced labor and urging the U.S. Congress to pass “The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.”
The Boston Celtics center also called on U.S. officials to take “tangible” steps to end the forced labor of Uyghurs in China.
“We need action. Not just words. We have to make human rights a priority in both U.S. and foreign policies,” he said. “Only then can we help stop the Uyghur genocide.”
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in July.
If passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and signed into law by President Joe Biden, it would ensure that goods made with forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region do not enter the U.S. market, and it imposes sanctions related to such forced labor.
The bill states that since April 2017, China has arbitrarily detained more than one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other persecuted groups in a system of extrajudicial mass internment camps, and has subjected detainees to forced labor, torture, political indoctrination, and other severe human rights abuses.
Beijing denies accusations of both internment camps and forced labor of Uyghurs while saying that the complexes are “vocational education and training centers” which provide Uyghurs courses on Chinese language, legal knowledge, professional skills and deradicalization. China claims Uyghurs’ freedoms have never been restricted and they have the freedom to choose their occupation.
One of the sponsors of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, Senator Marco Rubio, applauded Kanter for his courage to stand up, in a written statement delivered by a representative at the rally.
“Courageously, my friend Enes Kanter has used his platform to shine a light on the horrors committed at the hands of the Chinese Government and Communist Party,” Rubio said in his written statement.
In the past weeks, after Kanter expressed his support for Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hong Kong, calling on Beijing to stop its “brutal” policies, Chinese media platforms in China stopped streaming Boston Celtics games.
At the rally, Kanter also accused firms such as apparel company Nike for being complicit in Uyghur forced labor in China.
“As an NBA athlete, it is saddening, disgraceful, disgusting to see them remain silent about China,” Kanter said.
Last year, the Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said in a report that 83 brands including Nike were linked to Uyghur forced labor in China.
And later that year, The New York Times reported that Nike and soft drink manufacturer Coca-Cola were among the major companies and business groups lobbying Congress to weaken the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
Nike said on its website that the company is committed to ethical and responsible manufacturing and that it upholds international labor standards.
“We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region,” Nike said in its statement.