Update: The Forced Labor Crisis in the XUAR

WRC-Header
To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Penelope Kyritsis
Date:July 10, 2020
Re:Update: The Forced Labor Crisis in the XUAR

We write to update you on the unfolding forced labor crisis in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and the WRC’s pending guidance to university licensees.

Background

The Chinese government’s brutal repression of Uyghur and other Turkic and Muslim peoples, increasingly seen by the world community as an act of genocide, is embroiling apparel brands in a human rights catastrophe.

Earlier this year, we provided you an overview of the forced labor crisis in the XUAR and the risks for the university apparel supply chain, noting that the greatest risk lies not at the level of garment sewing and assembly, but rather down the chain, in the production of cotton and yarn. The XUAR is the source of 20 percent of global cotton output, which translates to a jarring statistic: roughly one in five cotton garments entering the US contains cotton from the XUAR and may be tainted by forced labor. The Chinese government is also involuntarily transporting Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim peoples to other parts of China, where they are put to work in factories under conditions that strongly indicate forced labor, broadening the risk of forced labor-made goods entering the collegiate supply chain.

New Developments

In recent weeks, new developments have drawn increased public attention to this crisis:

  • Chinese government practices amounting to “demographic genocide” in the XUAR: Last week, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the Chinese government is using forced sterilization and others methods to slash birth rates among Uyghurs and other minorities in the XUAR. The AP’s investigation reveals that the government has, over the past four years, forced intrauterine devices, sterilization, and abortion on hundreds of thousands of minority women.
  • Washington Post Editorial: “What’s happening in Xinjiang is genocide”: In an important editorial, The Washington Post decried forced sterilizations and other human rights abuses in the XUAR as an act of genocide, explaining that it falls within the definition of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
  • US government advisory on major risks to businesses with links to the XUAR: On July 1, the US Departments of State, the Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security issued a joint advisory for US businesses on the risks they face if they are importing goods sourced in Xinjiang. The advisory explains why traditional human rights due diligence methods are not available to prevent forced labor, given the intensely repressive environment in the XUAR, which make it impossible to conduct independent inspections. The advisory cautions corporations on the legal consequences of engaging with entities complicit in the Chinese government’s abuses, including the potential criminal prosecution of corporations and their executives.
  • WRC investigation finds that Caterpillar used forced labor: As reported in Axios, the WRC uncovered forced labor in the supply chain of equipment company Caterpillar, which also makes workwear. Over the last several months, Caterpillar, one of the largest and best-known corporations in the United States, imported tens of thousands of garments from two XUAR factories that are participants in a forced labor transfer scheme.

Next Steps

The WRC is finalizing guidance for licensees on the steps necessary to ensure that they are not putting university logos on apparel made with forced labor. University codes, of course, prohibit the use of forced labor. It is clear that compliance with university standards will require licensees to move expeditiously to ensure that there is no content in their collegiate supply chains from any farm or factory in the XUAR.

The WRC also continues to work with a broad network of human rights groups, labor rights groups, and Uyghur organizations to develop and convey recommendations for action by the apparel industry broadly, beyond the university sphere. These will also be announced soon.

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out should you have any questions.