Four major European and American apparel and footwear manufacturers have been sued in a French court for allegedly using forced labor in Xinjiang, a mostly Muslim region in northwestern China.
Human rights groups, academic researchers and journalists have increasingly been sounding the alarm that the Chinese government is forcing more than 500,000 Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic and religious minorities to pick cotton in Xinjiang, one of the largest cotton-producing regions in the world.
On April 9, the European Uyghur Institute, in collaboration with a French human rights NGO called Sherpa, the Ethics on Labels Collective (Collectif Ethique sur l'étiquette), and a Uyghur detention camp survivor, all represented by Bourdon & Associés, a prestigious Paris-based law firm, filed the lawsuit at the Judicial Court of Paris (Tribunal judiciaire de Paris).
The suit accuses Spain-based Inditex (whose brands include Zara, Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Pull and Bear and Stradivarius), France-based SMCP (comprised of Parisian brands, Sandro, Maje, Claudie Pierlot and De Fursac), U.S.-based footwear company Skechers, and the U.S. subsidiary of the Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo, of being "accomplices in serious crimes," including "concealment of the crime of forced labor, the crime of organized human trafficking, the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity."
The plaintiffs accuse:
- Inditex of maintaining supply links with major producers of yarns and fabrics based in Xinjiang.
- SMCP, whose majority shareholder is Luxembourg-based European TopSoho, an investment holding company owned by the Chinese Shandong Ruyi Technology Group Company Limited, based in Shandong, China, of operating factories in Xinjiang since 2010.
- Skechers of producing shoes at a factory in Guangdong province, where Uyghurs are allegedly forcibly transferred to work under conditions of forced labor.
- Uniqlo, which has officially taken a stand against forced labor, of sourcing textiles from Xinjiang, as well as from Anhui province, where thousands of Uyghur workers have allegedly been forcibly transferred to work under conditions of force labor.
The plaintiffs are asking the French judiciary to rule on the "possible criminal liability" of the companies. The stated aim is to "end impunity" for the brands, which are accused of "offloading onto their subcontractors their responsibility for human rights."
The lawsuit is based on a growing body of evidence-based research (see Appendixes below) which suggests that the Chinese government is committing crimes against humanity in an effort to crush political and religious dissent among Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Some scholars accuse the Chinese Communist Party of "ethnic cleansing" in Xinjiang with the ultimate aim of unifying the entire country around one homogeneous racial group, that of the Han Chinese.
Human rights experts accuse the Chinese government of detaining at least one million Muslims in Xinjiang in up to 380 internment camps, where they are subject to torture, mass rapes, forced labor and sterilizations.
Xinjiang produces 85% of China's and one-fifth of the world's cotton supply. Roughly 70% of the region's cotton fields are picked by hand. Research indicates that up to 560,000 Uyghurs are being forced to pick cotton in Xinjiang. The allegations of forced labor affect all Western supply chains that involve Xinjiang cotton as a raw material. Both the European Union and the United States import more than 30% of their total apparel and textile supplies from China.
In October 2019, the United States began imposing sanctions (Appendix 1 below) on Chinese individuals and entities accused of responsibility for abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
In October 2020, the Geneva-based Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), an influential non-profit group that promotes sustainable cotton production, suspended licensing of Xinjiang cotton, citing allegations and "increasing risks" of forced labor. The statement has since been scrubbed from the BCI website, and, disturbingly, also is not accessible on the Internet Archive. A screen shot of the statement can be viewed here.
After the BCI, which has more than 1,800 members, spanning the entire global cotton supply chain, stopped licensing Xinjiang cotton production, its members — including Germany-based Adidas, U.K.-based Burberry, Swedish retailers H&M and IKEA, and U.S.-based Nike — all issued statements that they would stop using cotton from Xinjiang, in accordance with the group's guidelines.
In March 2021, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada, following the American lead, announced (here, here and here) that they too had imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials accused of Uyghur-related human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The Chinese government retaliated by issuing its own sanctions against European, British, Canadian and American individuals and entities. China also launched a boycott of Western clothing retailers for expressing concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang. The companies have been pressured to scrub from their websites language about corporate policies on human rights, reverse decisions to stop buying cotton produced in Xinjiang, and remove maps that depict Taiwan as an independent country.
On or around March 25, presumably under pressure from China, Zara's parent company, Inditex, removed from its website a statement on the company's zero-tolerance policy for forced labor. The statement, which can be found on the Internet Archive, said:
"We take reports of improper social and labor practices in any part of the garment and textile supply chain extremely seriously. We are aware of a number of such reports alleging social and labor malpractice in various supply chains among Uyghurs in Xinjiang (China) as well as in other regions, which are highly concerning. Following an internal investigation, we can confirm that Inditex does not have commercial relations with any factory in Xinjiang."
The French newspaper Liberation reported:
"In fact, many companies in the sector are likely, at one stage or another of their production, to profit, consciously or not, from the coercive policy pursued by Beijing towards the Turkic peoples, whether in Xinjiang or in factories in other regions of China where Uyghur workers are sent. The Spanish Inditex, accused, like the Japanese Uniqlo, of supplying itself with yarn and fabric in Xinjiang, assured Liberation in December 'not to have links with Chinese companies identified as being able to use forced labor' and stressed that the 'group does not condone any form of forced labor.'"
Similar lawsuits are expected to be filed in other European countries. In a press release, the Ethics on Labels Collective said that the French lawsuit should serve as a warning to all Western companies that source production from Xinjiang:
"This lawsuit more broadly targets a large number of brands and distributors in the sector and denounces the impunity of these actors in the face of violations committed in the context of economic globalization.
"This lawsuit is the first in a series that will be filed in the coming months in other European countries and is supported by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the World Uyghur Congress.
"It is part of the long-standing advocacy of our organizations to fight against the impunity of transnational corporations and for the access of victims to justice and reparation."
Separately, on February 24, the Association of Uyghurs in France (Association des Ouïgours de France) filed a lawsuit against U.S.-based Nike for "deceptive business practices and complicity in the concealment of forced labor" in Xinjiang. The brand is said to continue to work with supplier Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd, which produces at least seven million pairs of shoes a year for Nike and allegedly uses at least 600 mostly female Uyghur workers.
"In doing so, Nike abuses its customers," said Parisian lawyer Mourad Battikh. "The brand is far from the ethical commitments it proclaims in the charter published on its official website." Nike denies the allegations.
The lawsuit was filed on the same day that French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denounced China's treatment of the Uyghurs:
"From the Xinjiang region of China, we are receiving testimonies and corroborating documents that point to unjustifiable practices against Uyghurs and of an institutionalized system of large-scale surveillance and repression."
Appendix 1. Western Actions Against China for Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang
In late 2016, the Chinese government initiated a sweeping crackdown in Xinjiang aimed at forcibly assimilating the Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group. Since then, China has sharply expanded a network of "political re-education" camps aimed at suppressing dissent. It has also cracked down on Uyghurs living abroad to determine if they are involved in anti-government activities.
The Uyghur population in Xinjiang is subject to extreme surveillance and restriction of movement. Although the situation there is opaque, satellite imagery shows that the number and size of detention facilities and textile factories are rapidly expanding. Satellite pictures also indicate that detainees are systematically being transported from detention centers to textile factories. Uyghurs are being paid below the minimum wage, and often not at all, according to local sources.
In recent years, a growing number of Western governments, think tanks and human rights groups have drawn attention to human rights violations in Xinjiang.
The Trump Administration, beginning in 2018, led the charge by sanctioning Chinese officials and entities believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, human rights abuses in Xinjiang. More recently, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada also announced coordinated sanctions, although not nearly to the extent of those imposed by the United States.
Australia and New Zealand have backed the sanctions, but have not announced any such measures of their own, apparently because they lack a legislative framework such as the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which allows for targeted sanctions against human rights abusers.
Following are, in reverse order, Western government-level sanctions, statements and measures aimed at drawing attention to the human rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang:
- March 22, 2021. The European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada announced (here, here and here) that they had imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials accused of responsibility for abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
- February 25, 2021. The Dutch parliament passed a non-binding motion saying that the treatment of Uyghurs in China amounts to genocide. It was the first such move by a European country.
- February 22, 2021. The Canadian parliament voted 266 to 0 to declare China's treatment of its Uyghur population a genocide.
- January 19, 2021. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo determined that China, under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party, has committed genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.
- January 13, 2021. The Trump Administration announced a ban on imports of cotton and other products from Xinjiang. It cited human rights violations and the widespread use of forced labor in the region. "The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will not tolerate the Chinese government's exploitation of modern slavery to import goods into the United States below fair market value," said CBP Acting Commissioner Mark A. Morgan. "Imports made on the cheap by using forced labor hurt American businesses that respect human rights and also expose unsuspecting consumers to unethical purchases."
- December 21, 2020. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced additional restrictions on the issuance of visas for People's Republic of China officials engaged in human rights abuses.
- July 20, 2020. The U.S. Department of Commerce added 11 Chinese companies to the U.S. Entity List, all of which were "implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of the People's Republic of China's (PRC) campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor, involuntary collection of biometric data, and genetic analyses targeted at Muslim minority groups from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
- July 9, 2020. The U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned one Chinese government entity and four current or former government officials in connection with human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
- July 1, 2020. The U.S. Department of State, along with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a risk advisory for businesses with potential supply chain exposure to Xinjiang to consider the reputational, economic and legal risks of involvement with entities that engage in human rights abuses, such as forced labor, in Xinjiang.
- June 5, 2020. The U.S Commerce Department sanctioned 33 Chinese firms and institutions accused of helping China spy on its minority Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang or because of alleged ties to weapons of mass destruction and China's military.
- May 22, 2020. The U.S. Department of Commerce sanctioned 33 Chinese companies and institutions to the Entity List. Of the 33, 24 are governmental and commercial organizations targeted for "supporting procurement of items for military end-use in China." The remaining nine entities consist of eight commercial entities and the China's Ministry of Public Security's Institute of Foreign Science for being "complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China's campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR)."
- October 8, 2019. The U.S. Department of State announced a visa restriction policy for PRC and Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for, or complicit in, human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
- October 7, 2019. The U.S. Department of Commerce sanctioned 28 Chinese public security bureaus and companies due to their alleged roles in human rights violations against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
- November 6, 2018. Western countries including France, Germany and the United States called on China to close down detention camps that activists say hold one million Uyghurs and other Muslims.
- August 30, 2018. The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said that up to one million Uyghurs were being held involuntarily in extra-legal detention in Xinjiang. It called for the immediate release of those detained on the "pretext of countering terrorism."
- May 14, 2018. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) denounced the Chinese government's increasing crackdown on Uyghur Muslims.
Appendix 2. Documenting Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang – Think Tanks
In recent years, human rights activists, think tanks and scholars have amassed and compiled overwhelming evidence of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
March 2021. The Washington, D.C.-based Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, in cooperation with the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, published a report, "The Uyghur Genocide: An Examination of China's Breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention." It concluded: "China bears State responsibility for an ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs, in breach of the Genocide Convention."
March 2021. The Washington, D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation, using evidence from Chinese sources, published an extensive report on forced labor in Xinjiang. It determined that there are "credible grounds for concluding" that labor practices in Xinjiang meet the criteria for Crimes Against Humanity as defined under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
December 2020. The Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy published a report, "Coercive Labor in Xinjiang: Labor Transfer and the Mobilization of Ethnic Minorities to Pick Cotton." The report, which provided new evidence for coercion specifically related to cotton picking, concluded:
"It is very likely that a major share of cotton production in Xinjiang is tainted with forced labor. In the absence of the ability to conduct meaningful and independent audits of actual working conditions, it must be assumed that any cotton from Xinjiang may involve coercive labor, with the likelihood of coercion being very high.
"This has drastic implications for supply chains not only within China, but also for countries such as India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, or Pakistan, to which Chinese cotton yarn and fabric is exported and made into clothing. These implications reach beyond Asia and into global supply chains and related government policies."
September 2020. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in a report, "Documenting Xinjiang's Detention System," identified and mapped more than 380 suspected detention facilities in Xinjiang. This is the largest database of Xinjiang's detention facilities in existence.
September 2020. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in a report, "Cultural Erasure," revealed that the Chinese government had destroyed or damaged at least 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang (65% of the total) in an effort to systematically rewrite the cultural heritage of the Xinjiang region.
July 2020. The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies published a report, "Addressing Forced Labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region: Toward a Shared Agenda." The document stressed the need for coordinated action between companies, investors and governments to ensure that goods entering the United States, Europe, and other democracies are not the product of forced labor, "which often occurs several steps away from global brands in supply chains."
June 2020. The Jamestown Foundation, in a report, "Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control: The CCP's Campaign to Suppress Uyghur Birthrates in Xinjiang," documented measures to forcibly suppress birthrates among ethnic Uyghur communities.
"The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labor, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen."
"As many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities are, or have been, arbitrarily detained in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The severe human rights abuses, torture, political indoctrination, forced renunciations of faith, and widespread and systematic forced labor occurring in mass internment camps may constitute crimes against humanity under international law.
"Global supply chains are increasingly at risk of being tainted with goods and products made with forced labor from the XUAR. Intrusive surveillance, restrictions on movement, and the inability to obtain reliable information from workers at risk of detention and other reprisals also makes it increasingly impossible to conduct due diligence. The risk for complicity in forced labor is high for any company importing goods directly from the XUAR or those partnering with a Chinese company operating in the region....
"U.S. businesses and consumers should not be complicit in forced labor and Chinese businesses should not profit from the forced labor of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities."
"Before long, it will be up to Chinese companies, and to China as a whole nation, to prove to other countries that their exported products do not involve any form of coerced ethnic minority labor. Until Xinjiang's extrajudicial internment camp network and related factories are fully shut down, and all forms of skills training and related employment in the region are made completely voluntary, this will be difficult or impossible to prove. Meanwhile, western and other foreign companies must fully divest their supply chains not only from Xinjiang, but also from Chinese companies with significant operations in that region."
November 2019. In an analysis for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, China expert Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian exposed China's operating manuals for mass internment and arrest by algorithm.
"Evidence suggests that large numbers of minorities in Xinjiang are being subjected to forced labor. This occurs in three ways. First, increasing numbers of minorities are being placed in the prison system, where forced labor is a long-standing practice. Second, current and ex-detainees are also forced to work in factories that are heavily subsidized to incorporate ex-detainees in their operations. Last, there is growing evidence that rural minorities are being coerced to work as part of the government's 'poverty alleviation' program. Forced labor occurs as part of the government's systematic and widespread attack on minorities in Xinjiang, and the entities employing forced labor may be complicit in crimes against humanity."
September 2019. In an analysis, "How Companies Profit from Forced Labor in Xinjiang," China expert Darren Byler documented how detainees in Xinjiang are being paid a fraction of minimum wage, and how both Chinese and foreign companies are taking advantage.
July 2019. More than 20 Western countries, in a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Council, called out human rights abuses by the Chinese government in Xinjiang. They called for China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang for independent international observers, including for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
March 2019. China Leadership Monitor, "Under Xi Jinping, Xinjiang has emerged as the party's incubator for a more assertive and coercive form of nation-building and cultural re-engineering. The result is a surface level calm that hides deep social and psychological anxieties while at the same undermining cultural diversity and social trust."
November 2018. An investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, using satellite imagery, identified and documented the expansion of 28 detention camps in Xinjiang.
September 2018. Human Rights Watch, in a 117-page report, "Eradicating Ideological Viruses: China's Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang's Muslims," presented evidence of the Chinese government's mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment, and the increasingly pervasive controls on daily life.
May 2018. The Jamestown Foundation, in a report, "New Evidence for China's Political Re-Education Campaign in Xinjiang," charted the history and present context of political re-education. It also examined the recent evolution of re-education in Xinjiang in the context of 'de-extremification' work.
March 2016. The Asia Research Institute, University of Nottingham, in an article, "Spatial Results of the 2010 Census in Xinjiang," wrote: "The 2010 census shows Xinjiang as having 21.82 million people; the 2000 census registered 18.46 million.... The demographic trends also show a population that is becoming less ethnically diverse with more Han migrants. That is the future of Xinjiang's demography."
Appendix 3. Documenting Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang – Media
- "Yes, Xinjiang Is an Intentional Genocide: Beijing Wants to End the Uyghurs as a People," Peter Mattis, Foreign Policy, April 15, 2021.
- "Gynecologist Exiled From China Says 80 Sterilizations Per Day Forced on Uyghurs," Nicole Fallert, Newsweek, April 14, 2021.
- "'I Never Thought China Could Ever Be This Dark,'" Melissa Chan, The Atlantic, April 8, 2021.
- "China Attempts to Silence Western Companies On Xinjiang," Ethan Yang, American Institute for Economic Research, March 28, 2021.
- "Xinjiang Cotton: How do I Know if it's in My Jeans?" Alix Kroeger, BBC News, March 26, 2021.
- "The Uyghurs as Victims of Chinese National Socialism," Richard M. Ebeling, American Institute for Economic Research, February 8, 2021.
- "'Their Goal is to Destroy Everyone': Uighur Camp Detainees Allege Systematic Rape," Matthew Hill, David Campanale and Joel Gunter, BBC News, February 2, 2021.
- "UK Accuses China of 'Gross' Human Rights Abuses against Uighurs," BBC News, July 19, 2020.
- "China's Own Documents Show Potentially Genocidal Sterilization Plans in Xinjiang," Adrian Zenz, Foreign Policy, July 1, 2020.
- "China Cuts Uighur Births with IUDs, Abortion, Sterilization," Associated Press, June 29, 2020.
- "'Absolutely No Mercy': Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims," New York Times, November 16, 2019.
- "China Locks Down Xinjiang a Decade After Deadly Ethnic Riots," Dake Kang, Associated Press, July 6, 2019.
- "How China Uses Hi-Tech Surveillance to Subdue Minorities, New York Times, Chris Buckley and Paul Mozur, May 22, 2019.
- "Western Companies Get Tangled in China's Muslim Clampdown," Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2019.
- "China's Hard Edge: The Leader of Beijing's Muslim Crackdown Gains Influence," Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2019.
- "How China Turned a City into a Prison," New York Times, Chris Buckley, Paul Mozur and Austin Ramzy, April 4, 2019.
- "After Mass Detentions, China Razes Muslim Communities to Build a Loyal City," Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2019.
- "China's Detention Camps for Muslims Turn to Forced Labor," New York Times, December 16, 2018.
- "China Treats Uighur Kids as 'Orphans' After Parents Seized," Yanan Wang and Dake Kang, Associated Press, September 22, 2018.
- "China Is Detaining Muslims in Vast Numbers. The Goal: 'Transformation.'" Chris Buckley, New York Times, September 8, 2018.
- "China's Jaw-Dropping Family Separation Policy," Sigal Samuel, The Atlantic, September 4, 2018.
- "China's Uighur Camps Swell as Beijing Widens the Dragnet," Eva Dou, Jeremy Page and Josh Chin, Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2018.
- "China Is Going to Outrageous Lengths to Surveil Its Own Citizens," Sigal Samuel, The Atlantic, August 16, 2018.
- "China: Xinjiang Camps Are Actually Vocational Schools for Criminals," Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2018.
- "'No Such Thing': China Denies U.N. Reports of Uighur Detention Camps," New York Times, August 13, 2018.
- "UN Panel Concerned at Reported Chinese Detention of Uighurs," Associated Press, August 10, 2018.
- "U.N. Says it has Credible Reports that China Holds Million Uighurs in Secret Camps," Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, August 10, 2018.
- "'We're a People Destroyed': Why Uighur Muslims across China are Living in Fear," Gene A. Bunin, The Guardian, August 7, 2018.
- "Uighur Children Fall Victim to China Anti-Terror Drive," Emily Feng, Financial Times, July 10, 2018.
- "'It is About Xi as the Leader of the World': Former Detainees Recount Abuse in Chinese Re-education Centers," Nathan Vanderklippe, The Globe and Mail, July 3, 2018.
- "Muslims Forced to Drink Alcohol and Eat Pork in China's 'Re-education' Camps, Former Inmate Claims," Gerry Shih and Dake Kang, Independent, May 19, 2018.
- "China's Mass Indoctrination Camps Evoke Cultural Revolution," Gerry Shih, Associated Press, May 18, 2018.
- "A Summer Vacation in China's Muslim Gulag," Foreign Policy, February 28, 2018.
- "What It's Like to Live in a Surveillance State," James A. Millward, New York Times, February 3, 2018.
- "Twelve Days in Xinjiang: How China's Surveillance State Overwhelms Daily Life," Wall Street Journal, Josh Chin and Clément Bürge, December 19, 2017.
- "AP Exclusive: Digital Police State Shackles Chinese Minority," Gerry Shih, Associated Press, December 17, 2017.
- "'A Police State of Unprecedented Scale': China is Tightening its Control over its Muslim Minority," Ben Dooley, Agence France-Presse (AFP), July 13, 2017.
Appendix 4. NGOs Fighting Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang
Anti-Slavery International. In a statement, the group said:
"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."
Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region. The group, consisting of more than 300 civil society groups, in October 2020 called on Western apparel and textile brands to urgently exit the Uyghur region at every level of their supply chains to prevent the use of forced labor.
Global Labor Justice. Executive Director Jennifer Rosenbaum said:
"If responsible business conduct has any meaning, it requires fashion brands to act when independent journalists, United Nations human rights experts, and human rights NGOs expose grave human rights abuses. Business and human rights principles require fashion brands to stop using cotton and labor from the Uyghur Region in their global supply chains."
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Senior Program Director of Human Rights, David Schilling, said:
"Given the lack of leverage and the inability to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts, apparel brands and retailers must take the necessary steps to end business relationships connected to the Uyghur Region in order to fulfil their responsibility to respect human rights as defined by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights."
Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders. This coalition of Chinese and international human rights non-governmental organizations estimated that between two and three million people have been detained in so-called re-education camps, or forced to attend "education sessions" for indoctrination purposes in Xinjiang.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Naomi Kikoler, Director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, said:
"China's systematic campaign against the Uyghur population is characterized by mass detention, forced labor, and discriminatory laws, and supported through high-tech manners of surveillance. There are reasonable grounds to believe that China is responsible for crimes against humanity. It is important to recall that crimes against humanity were born out of the experience of the Holocaust and first were prosecuted at Nuremberg. Every government has committed to protect their populations from crimes against humanity.
"In this case, there is a reasonable basis to believe that the Chinese government is failing in this regard, and they are committing the crimes against humanity of persecution and imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty."
Uyghur Human Rights Project. Executive Director Omer Kanat said:
"Global brands need to ask themselves how comfortable they are contributing to a genocidal policy against the Uyghur people. These companies have somehow managed to avoid scrutiny for complicity in that very policy — this stops today."
Worker Rights Consortium. Executive Director Scott Nova said:
"Forced laborers in the Uyghur Region face vicious retaliation if they tell the truth about their circumstances. This makes due diligence through labor inspections impossible and virtually guarantees that any brand sourcing from the Uyghur Region is using forced labor."