Free Uyghurs - Tell Urban Outfitters to act - FreedomUnited.org

Free Uyghurs from forced labor in China

Make sure your name is included in our joint submission calling on the U.S. government to enforce the Uyghur forced labor goods ban. Sign the petition telling the International Olympics Committee to put human rights first! Call for forced labor free solar power! Write to Apple and fashion brands. Write to Urban Outfitters. 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
  • A local government document from September 2019 reported that 560 Xinjiang labourers were transferred to work in factories in central Henan province—including a Foxxcon Technology Co. Ltd.  facility in Zhengzhou. Zhengzhou is known locally as ‘iPhone city’ because half of the world’s iPhones are reportedly made there17

In May 2021, through the Coalition, we released an academic report conducted by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University that revealed the shocking fact that almost the entire global solar panel industry is implicated in the Uyghur forced labor system. 18 Almost half of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon supply, a primary material in solar panel production, is sourced from the Uyghur Region. Further, the world’s four largest solar panel suppliers all source polysilicon from manufactures implicated in the Uyghur forced labor system.

We have launched a new action for you to tell world leaders that clean energy must be free of forced labor.

You can write directly to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. While Mr. Cook last year told US Congress that “forced labor is abhorrent,” several current Apple suppliers operating in China have been implicated in the Uyghur forced labor system.19 Additionally, the New York Times reported in November 2020 that disclosure forms showed that Apple paid lobbyists $90,000 to “educate policymakers” in an effort to soften the language of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act which is currently before the U.S. Senate. 20 Apple explained that they proposed “suggested edits to make the bill more clear and we believe more effective.” 21

Apple has also been supplied employee uniforms as recently as June 2020 by the Esquel group which was sanctioned in 2020 by the U.S. government over forced labor at a subsidiary firm in the Uyghur Region.22 Apple keeps saying it has “zero tolerance” for forced labor so why do they continue to work with companies implicated in modern slavery?

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.23

You can write write directly to Nike, Uniqlo and Zara. These are three of the world’s biggest clothing brands by revenue,24 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. 

The official sportswear uniform supplier of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Anta Sports, is among many apparel companies around the world that source cotton from the Uyghur Region. In March 2021, Anta Sports defiantly declared: “We have always bought and used cotton produced in China, including Xinjiang cotton, and in the future we will continue to do so.” 25

The Coalition engaged the IOC privately for eight months in 2021 to seek information and assess assurances about due diligence steps that the IOC may have taken to ensure that Olympic-branded merchandise is not made with Uyghur forced labor. On December 21, 2021 the IOC rejected the Coalition’s proposed terms for substantive, constructive, and mutually respectful two-way dialogue. 26

We have launched a new action for you to tell the IOC that the Olympics must be free of forced labor.

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.27 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. Join the campaign by signing the petition.

Freedom United denounces prejudice against people based on their ethnicity, perceived or otherwise, which has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s links to China. 

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://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale
  18. https://www.shu.ac.uk/helena-kennedy-centre-international-justice/research-and-projects/all-projects/in-broad-daylight
  19. https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale
  20. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/11/20/apple-uighur/
  21. https://enduyghurforcedlabour.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/44/Response-by-Apple.pdf
  22. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/aug/10/apple-imported-clothes-from-xinjiang-firm-facing-us-forced-labour-sanctions
  23. https://enduyghurforcedlabour.org/call-to-action/
  24. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Retail/Our%20Insights/The%20state%20of%20fashion%202020%20Navigating%20uncertainty/The-State-of-Fashion-2020-final.ashx
  25. https://www.axios.com/olympic-uniform-supplier-anta-xinjiang-cotton-438a046b-ac3e-4a85-8379-2954ddfbe2d2.html
  26. https://www.wsj.com/articles/olympic-committee-becomes-latest-target-in-standoff-over-treatment-of-uyghurs-11641324698?st=ywrhzihi9qbujq3&reflink=article_email_share
  27. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-repression-uighurs-xinjiang
  • March 4, 2022: Apple shareholders held their annual general meeting (AGM) in which nearly 34 per cent of shareholders voted on a resolution calling for more transparency from Apple about the use of forced labor in their supply chains

  • January 11, 2022: Two more brands, New Look and Seasalt Cornwall, have joined the list of public endorsers of the coalition’s Call to Action!

  • January 4, 2022: A month away from the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022, Freedom United and our partners at the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region are calling out the International Olympics Committee for failing to produce a human rights due diligence plan for the games or demonstrate that Olympic-branded merchandise is not made with forced Uyghur labor. Read our statement here

  • December 23, 2021: Campaign success! U.S. President Biden signs the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) just one week after it passed Congress! This new law bans the import of all goods from the Uyghur Region unless companies offer verifiable proof that the manufacturing process did not involve forced labor.

  • December 16, 2021: Campaign success! The U.S. Senate passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA)! The bill now heads to U.S. President Biden to be signed into law. The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region issued a statement on the bill’s passage. 

Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.

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Alexandre Figour
Alexandre Figour
3 months ago

Be vegan, make Peace, with humans and animals!

alice i. jena
alice i. jena
1 month ago

Slavery of any type must end

JOHN macarenhas
JOHN macarenhas
1 month ago

those people who buy cheap stuff from urban outfitters: SHAME ON YOU! CAN YOU SEE THE DNA OF THE SLAVES ON YOUR CLOTHES FROM THEIR BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS???

Renato Ramón Barajas Mendoza
Renato Ramón Barajas Mendoza
1 month ago

Free Uyghurs from forced labor in China

Angelina Souren
3 months ago

If people kick you, ask “why”. Rejection fosters obsession. Inequality breeds vulnerability, fear and cruelty. Break the cycle. Doesn’t matter that it makes you feel or look stupid. The result is what counts.

Tell Urban Outfitters to act

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Dear Richard Hayne. CEO of Urban Outfitters, Inc. (URBN),

I am concerned that URBN, the portfolio of brands that includes Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, does not disclose the steps it has taken to address the risks of employing Uyghur forced labor across its supply chain tiers.

Your company provides less information about its supply chain than the global sector average, and although it states that it “does not knowingly source from Xinjiang”, it has not publicly shared the list of suppliers with names and addresses and data points on its suppliers’ workforce enabling risks to be assessed and verified.

A recent investigation reinforced the established fact that China’s cotton industry benefits from an export strategy that obscures cotton’s origin in the Uyghur Region. Forced-labor-produced cotton and cotton-based goods from the Uyghur Region are still reaching U.S. retailers through intermediary manufacturers. This report explicitly mentions Anthropologie (an URBN brand) as one of the companies that may be buying cotton tainted with forced labor.

The evidence of the shipping routes indicates that Crevis Tex Jaya - one of Anthropologie’s manufacturers with an address in Indonesia - serves as intermediary in finishing cotton-based goods of Texhong Textile Group (天虹紡織集團有限公司), and this group has indicated in its own corporate statements that they buy cotton from Xinjiang.

I urge all URBN brands to end all business relationships with suppliers benefiting from forced labor. This means examining the shipping routes of intermediate manufacturers, and providing traceability by publicly disclosing all suppliers at every tier of all supply chains from raw materials to delivery, without exception.

Yours sincerely,

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