Lawmakers seek 'assurances' Olympic uniforms not linked to forced labor

A bipartisan trio of lawmakers are asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for “assurances” that uniforms for the 2022 Games in Beijing are not linked to forced labor, after reports surfaced that the IOC entered into contracts with two groups that use cotton produced in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The lawmakers, all of whom are members of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, penned a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach expressing their concern about contracts the group has with Anta Sports and Hengyuanxiang Group (HYX Group) because of their business dealings in the XUAR, where China's government has been accused of human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.

According to a March 2021 report in the South China Morning Post cited in the letter, Anta is the "official sportswear uniform supplier” of the IOC until the end of this year, and will provide apparel, shoes and accessories for the Games.

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The company has reportedly left the social compliance group Better Cotton Initiative and “further voiced its support for continued use of cotton produced in the XUAR,” according to the letter, while the HYX Group has reportedly publicly said it uses cotton produced in the XUAR.

The lawmakers asserted that “Cotton produced in the XUAR is synonymous with forced labor and the systematic repression that takes place there.”

The group — made up of Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats press cryptomining companies on energy consumption Democrats say change to filibuster just a matter of time Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (D-Ore.) and Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithLawmakers seek 'assurances' Olympic uniforms not linked to forced labor Biden signs bill punishing China for Uyghur abuses Last living Nuremberg Trials prosecutor deserves Congressional Gold Medal MORE (R-N.J.) — said there is a “worrisome possibility that IOC personnel or others attending the 2022 Olympic Games will be wearing clothing contaminated by forced labor.”

They are asking for the “certificate of origin” that HYX Group gave to the IOC to be made public. The document reportedly confirmed that no forced labor was used for the manufacturing of HYX products. The lawmakers also asked what assurances, if any, the IOC received that bolstered the reliability of the certificate.

The members of Congress are also asking the IOC to publicly explain assurances Anta Sports gave the committee that the products it produced were not made using forced labor, and why they believed those assurances were reliable.

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“As a starting point to fulfilling its commitment to uphold and respect human rights, and in line with the preservation of human dignity enshrined in the Olympic Charter, the IOC must uphold and respect the human rights of those who made the uniforms on their backs,” the lawmakers wrote.

Addressing human rights abuses against ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang region has been a focus of the Biden administration. Last month, the president signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bans imports of goods from China’s Xinjiang region unless individuals or companies can show that the products were not made with forced labor.

The 2022 Beijing Olympics have been under close scrutiny, in large part because of the human rights abuses against ethnic minorities. The U.S. and a number of other countries have announced diplomatic boycotts of the games.

The IOC told The Hill in a statement on Friday that it has received the letter from the lawmakers and “will reply to the [Congressional Executive Commission on China] as it has done previously.”

“The IOC has recently carried out third-party due diligence social audits for its own uniforms, which will be provided by Anta and HYX at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. The results demonstrated no issue in relation to forced labour. The results of the audit will be published in the course of next week,” the IOC added.

This story was updated at 4:44 p.m.