Representatives from the Coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labour testified before the House Ways & Means Committee on Thursday, September 17, 2020. The Campaign for Uyghurs, the Worker Rights Consortium, and the AFL-CIO provided testimony to members of Congress on why apparel brands must divest from the Xinjiang Region of China.
Supply chains of most major apparel brands and retailers are tainted by Uyghur forced labor. Major corporations claim not to tolerate forced labor by their suppliers but have offered no credible explanation as to how they can meet this standard while continuing to do business in a region where forced labor is rife.
AFL-CIO International Director Cathy Feingold stated, “The profiting by global corporations from the documented forced labor in the Uyghur Region of China represents an extreme example of the failures of the neoliberal model of globalization. For years, corporations shifted production to China to take advantage of low labor costs, the lack of independent unions, harassment and imprisonment of worker rights activists, and an overall repressive human rights environment. Now, the sourcing decisions of brands and their suppliers continue to take advantage from this exploitation. The lack of effective global governance creates a downward pressure on wages and working conditions for all workers in the global economy.”
The Chinese government has rounded up an estimated 1 to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim people in detention and forced-labor camps, the largest interment of an ethnic and religious minority since World War II. The atrocities in the Uyghur Region—including torture, forced separation of families, and the compulsory sterilization of Uyghur women—are widely recognized to be crimes against humanity. A central element of the government’s strategy to dominate the Uyghur people is a vast system of forced labor, affecting factories and farms across the region and China, both inside and beyond the internment camps.
Rushan Abbas, Founder and Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs, shared painful testimony of how her sister, a retired medical doctor, was abducted by the Chinese authorities. “She is a law-binding citizen of China and had lived a quiet life of service to others, was not particularly religious, nor was she involved in any political activities. She had confidence that trouble would not find her because she lived a quiet life. Her disappearance on September 11, 2018, came just six days after I spoke out publicly to condemn the Chinese regime’s treatment of the Uyghurs and the disappearance of my husband’s entire family into the camps. She was taken in retaliation for my activism here, as an American, and since that time I have had no news of her. Her own children were not told why she was detained, which camp she is held in, or how her current health is. Her two daughters are both US citizens, and our entire family are all agonized by this.”
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.
WRC Executive Director Scott Nova described, “For a worker in the Uyghur Region performing forced labor, the risks involved in simply telling the truth are on an entirely different scale. Virtually every adult member of the Uyghur or other Turkic Muslim minority groups is either incarcerated in an internment camp, was previously incarcerated, or is at risk of future incarceration if they speak or otherwise act in a manner that displeases the authorities. Lawyer and Uyghur rights advocate Nury Turkel captured the severity of the risks confronting any worker interviewed by auditors in the Uyghur Region, explaining, ‘No interviews can be treated as uncoerced. Recall that any Uyghur who departs from the government-dictated script faces a high risk of detention, torture, and possibly death in custody.’”
Despite global outrage at the abuses, leading apparel brands are bolstering and benefiting from the government’s assault on the peoples of the region. Brands continue to source millions of tons of cotton and yarn from the Uyghur Region. Roughly 1 in 5 cotton garments sold globally contains cotton and/or yarn from the Uyghur Region; it is virtually certain that many of these goods are tainted with forced labor. Moreover, apparel brands maintain lucrative partnerships with Chinese corporations implicated in forced labor, including those that benefit from the forced labor transfer of victims from the Uyghur Region to work in factories across China.
The testimony provided today by Coalition members bears additional witness to why we need to #EndForcedUyghurLabour. For more information, see coverage by Reuters, The New York Times, and The Guardian.