International supply chains have been linked to Uighurs forced labor and human rights violation

Suppliers of international tech and fashion companies, such as Apple, Nike and Calvin Klein, have been exploiting forced labor from ethnic minority groups, mostly Uighurs, detained in the Xinjiang region, China. Organizations have already started to take action.

Several investigations carried out in the last year by The New York Times, Wall Street Journals, and government agencies like the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, have revealed human rights violations enacted by the Chinese government to the detriment of the Uighur population in the Xinjiang region, located in the northwest area of the country.

According to them and human-rights activists, China has detained more than 1 million people in camps formally described as vocational-training schools, intended to fight extremism in the region and increase loyalty towards the Communist Party, and in which minority groups, mostly the Uighurs Muslim minority, have been forced to relocate and work in factories near their camps.

The local factories exploiting forced Uighurs labor, which include Changji Esquel Textile Co. and Nanchang O-Film Tech, have been linked to the supply chain of many well-known international companies, especially in the tech and fashion industries, such as Apple, Google, HP, Adidas AG, H&M, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Abercrombie & Fitch. Many of these firms have already started internal investigations on their supply chain and/or interrupted collaborations with the reported factories.

More than 190 organizations from 36 countries issued a call to action seeking commitments from clothing brands to stop engaging with cotton suppliers involved in Uighur forced labor, as almost one in five cotton garments commercialized worldwide is made of cotton or yarn coming from the Xinjiang region. This call to action follows another campaign in favor of Uighur rights promoted by Mr. Glucksmann, a member of the European Parliament, which led Adidas and Lacoste to “agree to cease all activity with suppliers and subcontractors” after they were reported, among others, by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute to work with supplier involved in the ongoing violation of human rights.

According to industry experts, clothing brands committing to the Xinjiang withdrawal pledge will struggle to control to which degree the manufacturing of their goods may be impaired. Companies outsourcing production are required to carry out more detailed due diligence on their supply chains, especially when many companies are involved in the outsourcing process, as coerced labor could happen at any point in the production.

The US government has taken formal actions towards the matter. On the 20th of July, it added eleven Chinese companies from the Xinjiang region to the entity list, prohibiting them from buying US products and technology without a license. Nine of them were specifically included in the list for exploiting forced labor, while two were added as they are contributing to document the genetic material of ethnic minorities in the mentioned Chinese region. These last two companies are the subsidiaries of the Chinese gene sequencing and biomedical firm BGI, which has also been supplying millions of Covid-19 tests globally, including in the United States. Supplies of face masks and other protective equipment manufactured in factories using Uighur forced labor have also been documented to have reached the US market.

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