Story at a glance
- A coalition of more than 180 organizations are calling out companies that use materials from the Uyghur region of China.
- China has forced millions of Uyghurs and other religious minorities into forced labor camps.
- In a release, human rights organizations are calling for companies to cut all ties with suppliers from that region.
Major brands from Adidas and Amazon to Victoria’s Secret and Zara are complicit in forced labor of Uyghur peoples in China, says a coalition of more than 180 human rights groups.
Called "re-education camps," these internment camps house an estimated hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other religious minorities in China, detained by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region government and the Communist Party of China. A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute earlier this year accused the Chinese government of forcing these detainees to work at factories in major supply chains.
Gulzira Auelkhan, a Kazakh woman who was formerly detained in an internment camp and then subjected to forced labour in a factory said in a statement, “The clothes factory was no different from the [internment] camp. There were police, cameras, you couldn’t go anywhere.”
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These suppliers service dozens of international companies, from apparel brands Adidas and Nike to department stores Costco and Ikea. And a recent New York Times investigation revealed Uyghur laborers are also producing personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic, including face masks, some of which was tracked to the United States.
The coalition of 72 Uyghur rights groups and more than 100 civil society and labor unions is demanding that apparel brands cut all ties with suppliers implicated in forced labour and end all sourcing from the Uyghur Region, from cotton to finished garments, within 12 months. China is the largest cotton producer in the world, and 84 percent of its cotton comes from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. About 1 in 5 garments sold globally contains cotton and/or yarn from the Uyghur Region, and many of these goods are tainted with forced labor, the coalition said in a release.
“Now is the time for real action from brands, governments and international bodies – not empty declarations. To end the slavery and horrific abuses of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic Muslim peoples by the Chinese government, brands must ensure their supply chains are not linked to the atrocities against these people. The only way brands can ensure they are not profiting from the exploitation is by exiting the region and ending relationships with suppliers propping up this Chinese government system,” Jasmine O’Connor OBE, CEO of Anti-Slavery International, said in a release.
The Guardian reached out to a number of brands on the list, with varying responses. H&M and Ikea have previously said they would stop buying cotton from the region, and H&M told the Guardian that it is reviewing its one indirect relationship with a yarn producer operating in the region. Adidas, C&A and PVH Corporation, which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, told the Guardian that they do not source directly from the region. And a Uniqlo spokesperson told the Guardian no products are manufactured in the region and that "all production partners in its supply chain uphold their codes of conduct on human and workers rights."
But the coalition insists that such claims can’t be validated.
“Forced labourers in the Uyghur Region face vicious retaliation if they tell the truth about their circumstances. This makes due diligence through labour inspections impossible and virtually guarantees that any brand sourcing from the Uyghur Region is using forced labour,” said Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium.
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