Thursday, July 23, 2020

Slave-Labour and the Uighur People

Many of the world’s biggest fashion brands and retailers are complicit in the forced labour and human rights violations being perpetrated on millions of Uighur people in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China, says a coalition of more than 180 human rights groups.

“Virtually the entire [global] apparels industry is tainted by forced Uighur and Turkic Muslim labour,” the coalition said in a statement.

 It says many of the world’s leading clothing brands continue to source cotton and yarn produced through a vast state-sponsored system of forced labour involving up to 1.8m Uighur and other Turkic and Muslim people in prison camps, factories and farms in Xinjiang. It says that the forced labour system across the region is the largest internment of an ethnic and religious minority since the second world war.

Global fashion brands source so extensively from Xinjiang that the coalition estimates it is “virtually certain” that as many as one in five cotton products sold across the world are tainted with forced labour and human rights violations occurring there.

China is the largest cotton producer in the world, with 84% of its cotton coming from the Xinjiang region. Cotton and yarn produced in Xinjiang are used extensively in other key garment-producing countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam. Xinjiang cotton and yarn are also used in textiles and home furnishings. 

The coalition has published an extensive list of brands it claims continue to source from the region, or from factories connected to the forced labour of Uighur people, including Gap, C&A, Adidas, Muji, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.

The coalition says many more leading clothing brands also continue to maintain lucrative strategic partnerships with Chinese companies, accepting subsidies from their government to expand textile production in the region or benefiting from the forced labour of Uighur people transferred from Xinjiang to factories across China.

“There is a high likelihood that every high street and luxury brand runs the risk of being linked to what is happening to the Uighur people,” says Chloe Cranson, business and human rights manager at Anti-Slavery International. “This isn’t just about direct supply chain links, it’s about how the global apparels sector is helping prop up and facilitate the system of human rights abuses and forced labour,” says Crason. “There needs to be a deep and thorough interrogation of how brands and retailers are linked to what is happening at scale to the Uighur people.”

"Global brands need to ask themselves how comfortable they are contributing to a genocidal policy against the Uighur people. These companies have somehow managed to avoid scrutiny for complicity in that very policy – this stops today,” said Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project. There is mounting global outrage over the atrocities being committed against the Uighur population in the region, including torture, forced separation and the compulsory sterilisation of Uighur women.

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