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Brands urged to take action on forced labour of Uyghur Muslims in China

The End Uyghur Forced Labour (EUFL) coalition is calling on brands to end the use of forced labour in their Chinese supply chains. Brands are being urged to cut ties with the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (known to local people as East Turkistan), over atrocities there. 

A number of household brands have been named as likely benefiting from slave labour from the region over recent months including M&S, Nike and Adidas.

The Chinese government is estimated to have held between 1 to 1.8 million people in detention and forced labour camps in the region - the largest internment of an ethnic and religious minority since World War II. 

At least 80,000 people have been transferred from the camps to factories across China where they cannot leave, are under constant surveillance, and must continue “ideological training” to abandon their religion and culture. 

The coalition says that there is also evidence of the government using “forced labour as a means of social control” throughout the cotton-producing region.

Gulzira Auelkhan, a Kazakh woman, was detained in an internment camp before being subjected to forced labour in a factory. “The clothes factory was no different from the [internment] camp. There were police, cameras, you couldn’t go anywhere.”

Which brands are implicated?

EUFL says that “Almost every major apparel brand and retailer selling cotton products is potentially implicated.”

Almost 20% of global cotton - and 80% of Chinese cotton - is grown in the Uyghur Region. The area also has extensive yarn spinning, as well as textile and garment production. Apparel factories across China and the world use fabric and yarn produced there. While most fashion brands do not source from factories in the Uyghur Region, many of their supply chains are likely to be implicated. 

Dozens of well-known brands - both in the clothing and other sectors - have already been named. In March 2020, a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) identified 83 companies implicated in possible Uyghur forced labour. It found that Amazon, Apple, Adidas, Nike, H&M and Uniqlo were among the companies directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers, who had been transferred from the Uyghur Region to factories in the rest of China.

O-Film, a company manufacturing selfie-cameras for Apple, Huawei, Lenovo and Samsung, was found to have 700 Uyghur labourers who were being forced to work after being transferred from the Uyghur Region. 560 workers are also said to have been transferred to a factory for Apple’s notorious supplier Foxconn in Zhengzhou. The factory has been dubbed ‘iPhone city’ due to the quantity of iPhones it produces for the company.

The Washington Post visited a factory reported to be supplying 8 million pairs of Nike shoes annually, where it said that around 700 Uyghur peoples were being forced to work. The factory was said to have been a Nike supplier for more than 30 years.

image: urghur women forced labour in factories china

What is the situation in the Uyghur Region? 

Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples have faced ongoing atrocities by the Chinese government in the Uyghur Region. 

The region, in northwest China, is home to a number of Muslim ethnic-minority groups, including Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and Uyghurs (who make up 45% of the population). Although referred to as ‘autonomous’, the Uyghur Region remains tightly controlled by the Chinese state. 

Recent atrocities have been widely recognised as crimes against humanity, including torture, forced separation of families, and the compulsory sterilisations and abortions for Uyghur women. There have been multiple reports of disappearances of Uyghur peoples.

China - which initially denied the existence of the camps - now says they are a measure against separatist violence in the Uyghur Region, used for voluntary re-education and training. Detainees are held until they can demonstrate that they have transformed their behaviour, beliefs and education.

The EUFL coalition says, “A central element of the government’s strategy to dominate the Uyghur people is a vast system of forced labour, affecting factories and farms across the region and China, both inside and beyond the internment camps.”

Evidence suggests that the detainees continued to be transferred to factories and forced to work during China’s coronavirus lockdown.

How have companies responded?

Nike says that it has reviewed its suppliers hiring policy and to date has “not found employment of Uyghurs or other ethnic minorities.” Many other companies say that they have policies and due diligence in place to tackle forced labour in supply chains. 

But the coalition - which includes over 180 Uyghur rights groups, civil society organisations and unions - says that without credible ways to check conditions in the region, companies cannot be sure that their products are not implicated without cutting their supply chains in the Uyghur Region - both of cotton and finished products.

Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium said,

“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,”

“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,” says Jasmine O’Connor, CEO of Anti-Slavery International.

“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.”

Take action: email the companies named in the ASPI report

The 83 companies named in the ASPI report included:

You can directly email Adidas, Amazon, Apple, M&S, Nike and Samsung brands using their email buttons on our company profile pages. Please adjust the sample text.

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