The U.S. government said Thursday it has imposed an import ban on a China-made solar panel material and taken other actions against Chinese companies over allegations of forced labor in an effort to root out unethical practices from U.S. supply chains.
The move, which includes banning imports of silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., comes as the administration of President Joe Biden steps up pressure on Beijing over allegations of human rights abuses, including forced labor, against the Muslim Uyghur minority in China's far-western Xinjiang region.
Silica is a raw material used to make components for solar panels, electronics and other goods.
China, reacting to earlier reports that the United States was poised to take actions targeting the photovoltaic industry in Xinjiang, said it strongly condemned the sanctions imposed on Chinese companies based on "lies and disinformation."
Accusations by the United States of "forced labor" and "genocide" in Xinjiang are the biggest lie of the century, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press conference Thursday.
The Biden administration said it is translating into action the pledges made by the Group of Seven industrialized countries during a summit meeting earlier this month to address forced labor in global supply chains.
"These actions demonstrate our commitment to imposing additional costs on the People's Republic of China for engaging in cruel and inhumane forced labor practices and ensuring that Beijing plays by the rules of fair trade as part of the rules-based international order," the White House said, referring to China's official name.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said its import ban applies to silica-based products made by Hoshine, which is located in Xinjiang, and its subsidiaries, as well as materials related to those products such as polysilicon.
The action was taken based on information "reasonably indicating" that Hoshine has used forced labor to manufacture the products, such as the use of intimidation and threats, and restriction of movement, the department said.
U.S. law prohibits the importation of merchandise produced wholly or in part by convict or forced labor.
According to The New York Times, a significant portion of the world's polysilicon, which is used to make solar panels, comes from Xinjiang.
"Chinese companies are profiting from these abuses...(they) are attempting to sell cheaply made goods to consumers in the United States and in other countries," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a press conference, slamming forced labor as "modern-day slavery."
The Commerce Department, meanwhile, added to its trade blacklist five Chinese entities, including Hoshine and the paramilitary Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, over allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang and human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in the region.
Placement on the so-called Entity List means that U.S. firms are prohibited from selling goods to the designated companies without U.S. government approval.
The Labor Department also included polysilicon produced with forced labor in China on its "List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor" in violation of international standards, according to the White House.