The government of China is perpetrating mass human rights abuses against Uyghur and other Turkic and Muslim people in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Uyghur Region) in Western China. These abuses include mass surveillance, arbitrary detention, rape, torture, political “re-education,” forced sterilisations, and forced labour. A minimum estimated 1 million to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim people are held in mass arbitrary detention; Uyghurs are forced to work in factories in the Uyghur Region and across China that produce goods sold all over the world. The Uyghur Region is also a global hub for cotton growing and manufacturing, producing cotton and cotton products produced with forced labour from field to factory. Numerous other products are implicated, from solar panels to electronics. However, since up to 1 in 5 of all cotton products around the world may be tainted with Uyghur forced labour, the likelihood of links to fashion and home-furnishing industries is particularly high. Companies that want to be on the right side of history must take action today.
The past few months have seen growing momentum in the fight for Uyghur human rights. An authoritative legal opinion from prestigious barristers in the UK has concluded that the available evidence credibly establishes that crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide have been committed. In February, the Canadian Parliament passed a motion recognising that China’s treatment of Uyghurs amounts to genocide. And in January, the U.S. Department of State determined that atrocities against the Uyghurs constitute genocide and crimes against humanity. This determination followed a sweeping import ban on all cotton and tomato-product imports from the Uyghur Region, due to widespread forced labor in those supply chains. The U.S. Congress is considering a bill which would make all products produced in the Uyghur Region presumed to be tainted with forced labor and banned from import to the U.S.
Other governments around the world are also taking action. The UK and Canada have announced new measures warning companies of risks of complicity with Uyghur forced labor and the momentum is strong towards tougher enforceable measures. The EU Parliament has resoundingly called for an urgent response to Uyghur abuses. Australia is considering a bill to ban the import of goods made by Uyghur forced labour.
Government measures are necessary because leading fashion brands and retailers continue to source cotton and other goods from the Uyghur Region, and to work with suppliers propping up the forced labour system. Many brands and retailers claim they do not know where all their inputs come from or if they are profiting from forced labour – although to avoid complicity with abuses or falling afoul of the law, they must.
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