Free Uyghurs from forced labor in China - FreedomUnited.org
Campaign Update:

January 13, 2021: The US government announced that all raw fibers, apparel, and textiles originating in the Uyghur Region would be blocked, along with tomato products and seeds. This builds on an earlier decision we announced in September when a limited ban was introduced. The previous day the UK government announced new measures to tackle modern slavery including fines for links to forced Uyghur labor. Read more here.

Free Uyghurs from forced labor in China

Write to fashion brands and read Rahima’s story.

“If the government tells you to work, you go.” Uyghur laborer, Aksu, China.1

People belonging to ethnic, cultural, and religious groups in northwestern China, including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Hui, are currently the target of the largest organized detention of an ethno-religious minority the world has seen since World War II. Since 2017, over one million have been detained.2

Detainees are made to work under constant surveillance, with assigned minders and no freedom to leave. Their forced labor contributes to the production of goods for numerous multinationals.

The native people of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Northwest China—known to locals as East Turkistan—are largely from Turkic ethnic groups. Ethnically and culturally distinct from China’s majority Han population, most Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Hui are Muslim, and their languages—with the exception of the Hui—are unrelated to Mandarin and Cantonese. They have long been persecuted for their ethnicity by the government, which has repressed their language, religion, and culture along with settling millions of Han Chinese in the Uyghur Region.  Racial discrimination against Muslims is commonplace.3

In recent years, however, the government’s efforts to oppress and forcibly assimilate people from Turkic and Muslim-majority ethnic groups, like Uyghurs, have expanded dramatically.

Survivor accounts, leaked official documents, and satellite imagery confirm that the Chinese government is subjecting hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui, and other Turkic and Muslim people to systematic forced labor in detention camps, prisons, and factories. 4 Forced loyalty to the Communist party, renunciation of Islam, constant surveillance, and torture are among the other horrifying conditions that they face.5 Experts argue that forced labor is now so widespread in the Uyghur Region that all goods produced there should be considered tainted.6

This year, reports revealed that the forced labor of Uyghurs has been expanded beyond the Uyghur Region, with at least 80,000 Uyghurs transferred to factories across China where they cannot leave, are constantly surveilled, and must undergo “ideological training” to abandon their religion and culture.7

Recent video evidence shows that some of these transfers occurred earlier this year, when much of China was under lockdown as a result of the expanding COVID-19 outbreak. This means these laborers were forced to work and exposed to the virus while much of the country’s population sheltered at home. 8

Few detainees are charged with any crime but rather are targeted simply for practicing their Muslim faith. 9 The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination states that Muslim minorities are now “treated as enemies of the State based on nothing more than their ethno-religious identity.”10 Analysts have argued that the Chinese government’s use of forced labor as part of an effort to forcibly assimilate an ethnic group and eliminate a culture and religion sets it apart from more common forms of forced labor and could make the government guilty of crimes against humanity.11 Some have even described the government’s actions as cultural genocide.12

The forced labor of Uyghurs and other people from Turkic or mainly Muslim ethnic groups has become a significant part of the Chinese economy. A complex system of buying and selling their labor has developed, with many brokers and local officials advertising “government sponsored workers” online.13

Countless Western companies are also profiting from this system of forced labor in their supply chains. Over 20 percent of the global apparel’s cotton supply is grown in Uyghur Region,14 with 84 percent of China’s supply grown in the province. Recent reports implicate at least 83 companies, in numerous different industries, in profiting from the forced labor.

  • The Huafu Fashion Co. mill in Aksu, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, claims to make yarn that eventually finds its way into clothes for Western fast fashion brands More than 4,000 Uyghurs work there in isolation and under strict “military-style management,” as stated by the local human resources bureau. 15
  • The Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd. in Laixi City, Shandong is one of the world’s largest manufacturers for a major sneaker company. As of 2020, around 600 Uyghur people worked in the factory. These workers did not come by choice, are forbidden from leaving, and cannot practice their religion. Photographs of the factory show watchtowers, razor wire, and inward-facing barbed wire fences. 16
  • O-Film Technology Co. Ltd. in Nanchang, Jiangxi, produces cameras and touchscreens for electronics companies, including smartphone “selfie” cameras. Over a thousand Uyghurs were transferred there in 2017, where they were assigned minders and expected to “gradually alter their ideology.”17

Through garment supply chains, the entire fashion industry, including products sold by Western brands, are potentially tainted. We are calling on leading brands and retailers to ensure that they are not supporting or benefiting from this pervasive and extensive system of forced labor.18

We have launched a new action enabling you to write directly to Nike, Uniqlo and Zara. These are three of the world’s biggest clothing brands by revenue,19 and each comes from a different region of the world: North America, Asia, and Europe, respectively.

Nike, Uniqlo and Zara, like almost all companies, claim to prohibit forced labor in their supply chains, yet offer no credible explanation as to how they can do this considering their links to a region where all goods are likely to be tainted by forced labor. By continuing to operate in and maintaining links to the region, fashion brands like these are complicit in what many have widely recognized as crimes against humanity. 

Our partners have also set up a campaign so you can send this message to M&S. You can take action on CSW’s website here.

The Chinese government has defended the camps where cotton and garments are produced as voluntary “vocational training centers” that serve to provide professional opportunities and eliminate extremism.20 But the stories above are just some among the mounting evidence that reveal this system of modern slavery for what it is.

We have the power to push for change. Although the Chinese government continues to deny any wrongdoing, we can draw attention to the issue and put pressure on them to end the use of forced labor. Western governments and corporations must end their involvement in implicated factories. By making it neither economically nor politically advantageous for the Chinese government to continue its current treatment of these people, we can make a difference.

There is a growing movement calling for these changes, and now we have ample evidence to argue for it. Some officials in the U.S. government and around the world have already started calling for laws banning imports from the Uyghur Region. Some companies have cut ties with their factories in the Uyghur Region, while others have pledged to investigate their supply chains. Let’s take advantage of this momentum and use our voice as civil society to cement real change.

Urge the Chinese government to end the persecution and exploitation of Uyghurs and other marginalized groups through the use of forced labor.

Freedom United denounces prejudice against Chinese people linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Notes:

  1. https://www.wsj.com/articles/western-companies-get-tangled-in-chinas-muslim-clampdown-11558017472
  2. https://www.csis.org/analysis/connecting-dots-xinjiang-forced-labor-forced-assimilation-and-western-supply-chains
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-22278037
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/world/asia/xinjiang-china-forced-labor-camps-uighurs.html
  5. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-repression-uighurs-xinjiang
  6. https://www.fairlabor.org/sites/default/files/documents/reports/fla-brief-xinjiang_forced_labor_risk_final.pdf
  7. https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale
  8. https://www.rfa.org/english/video?v=1_yjoodoqr
  9. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-repression-uighurs-xinjiang
  10. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23452&LangID=E
  11. https://www.ushmm.org/genocide-prevention/blog/simon-skjodt-center-director-delivers-remarks-on-chinas-systematic-persecut
  12. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/19/china-has-chosen-cultural-genocide-in-xinjiang-for-now/
  13. https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/ad-aspi/2020-03/Uyghurs%20for%20sale_UPDATE-06MAR.pdf?TJHUQi1T50fUpbjD9zKRLeutM8wuWxpv#page=24
  14. https://www.gujcot.com/upload_files/news/Jernigan%20Global%2022-July-2019.pdf
  15. https://www.wsj.com/articles/western-companies-get-tangled-in-chinas-muslim-clampdown-11558017472
  16. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/china-compels-uighurs-to-work-in-shoe-factory-that-supplies-nike/2020/02/28/ebddf5f4-57b2-11ea-8efd-0f904bdd8057_story.html
  17. https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/ad-aspi/2020-03/Uyghurs%20for%20sale_UPDATE-06MAR.pdf?TJHUQi1T50fUpbjD9zKRLeutM8wuWxpv#page=24
  18. https://enduyghurforcedlabour.org/call-to-action/
  19. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Retail/Our%20Insights/The%20state%20of%20fashion%202020%20Navigating%20uncertainty/The-State-of-Fashion-2020-final.ashx
  20. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-repression-uighurs-xinjiang
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Maria Cullen
Maria Cullen
3 months ago

No more Nike or Zara in my house.

stephen bilton
stephen bilton
1 month ago
Reply to  Maria Cullen

The Chinese government must be internationally vilified and if necessary replaced by democracy. Their policies and practices have infiltrated everywhere where they are able to control matters and make a financial gain, In the UK they dominate many major industries fundamental to our lives, permitted by lax, even corrupt investment practices, to include water, power supplies and telephony right down to the tiniest and mundane retail goods, even the PPE proposed as vitial during the Covid Crisis!

Tanya
Tanya
30 days ago
Reply to  stephen bilton

I work in a nursing home and China is a massive supplier of PPE but if I don’t wear it I would be putting people at risk and possibly lose my job. It’s control!

Naseera Osman
Naseera Osman
3 months ago
Reply to  Maria Cullen

Agreed!

Gillian Stroud
Gillian Stroud
2 months ago

I have been boycotting china since their invasion and destruction of Tibet. I don’t know why people want to fill their lives with cheap, ugly crap.

Fernando Buoso
Fernando Buoso
3 months ago

No more Chinese product in my life, #freetibet

Pauline Stephenson
Pauline Stephenson
12 days ago
Reply to  Fernando Buoso

It is so hard to find anything particularly electrical that is not made in China

Els Bliek
Els Bliek
3 months ago

This must end now, not next month or next year!!

María de los Ángeles Pintos
María de los Ángeles Pintos
3 months ago
Reply to  Els Bliek

I absolutely agree, yet allow me to digress on one point: humans have developed a “tendency” (just look back in history…the Greeks & Romans, the Danes, kings frm everywhere, the US…) towards making slaves of other humans for CENTURIES. So how can we expect to have it disappear in so little time?! It’ll take generations, but we MUST KEEP MOVING FORWARD!

Rebecca Stager
Rebecca Stager
3 months ago

I signed, because I believe in the principles of Freedom United! However, I DO wonder what happens to these people if they HAVE been freed from forced labor? Do they have any food or income at ALL then?!! I recall years ago hearing of American businessmen who got subsistence farmers in another country to divert their farming into growing crops for the American company’s benefit. The company then did not pay sufficiently, and the farmers no longer had enough FOOD because of the diversion.

Hlaimah
Hlaimah
2 months ago
Reply to  Rebecca Stager

different cases. in Uyghur case, those workers detained in camps, tortured, brain-washed, then sent out to other provinces of China to eliminate, dilute the Uygur ethnic group. the ultimate purpose is different.

Freedom United
Admin
3 months ago
Reply to  Rebecca Stager

Thanks for your message! We support remediation and justice for all people freed from modern slavery. The Coalition Against Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region, whose steering committee Freedom United sits on, includes “appropriate remedial action… including but not limited to compensation of affected workers” in its Brand Commitment. In particular, suppliers outside the Uyghur Region that cease their use of transferred Uyghur labor are required to provide remedy for affected workers. However, what’s happening in the Uyghur Region are mass human rights violations and the priority must be securing its end as soon as possible.

Call on fashion brands to exit the Uyghur Region

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Dear fashion brands,

I am concerned that you have still not committed to fully exiting the Uyghur Region in China, where over one million Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim people have been detained since 2017 in a repressive campaign that involves sterilization, torture, and family separation, in addition to forced labor. Forced labor is such a significant component of the government’s system of repression that experts believe all goods made in the region should be considered tainted.

By failing to commit to cease sourcing from the Uyghur Region, your company runs a grave risk of being complicit in and benefiting from these atrocities. Moreover, operating in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights has become practically impossible as there are no valid means for companies to independently verify that their operations in the Uyghur Region are free of forced labor.

The only way that you can ensure that your company is not supporting the government’s repression is to commit to fully extricating your supply chain from the Uyghur Region, as well as from facilities elsewhere in China that are linked to the forced labor system.

I urge your company to read and sign the Coalition to End Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region's Call to Action, and I call on you to commit to exiting the Uyghur Region at every level of your supply chain and ending relationships with suppliers that support the forced labor system. As a leading global brand, we as consumers expect you to commit to respecting human rights.

Yours sincerely,

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