Axios reports this week that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has given a uniform contract for the Tokyo 2021 Summer Olympics and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics to a company implicated in forced labor.
The Hengyuanxiang (HYX) Group, which was contracted by the IOC to supply formal uniforms, has a subsidiary factory in the Uyghur Region and openly advertises that its cotton comes from this region. The Uyghur Region is home to hundreds of forced labor and detention camps run by the Chinese government.
Freedom United and other advocates have been calling for an end to forced labor in the Uyghur Region for over a year now. We have joined with hundreds of organizations, including over 70 Ugyhur groups, to form the Coalition to End Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region.
The Coalition has issued a Call to Action to companies using Chinese cotton to exit the Uyghur Region due to the high likelihood of forced labor. To date, a few major fashion brands have signed the Call to Action, including Marks and Spencers, ASOS and EILEEN FISHER.
More and more companies have made public pledges to ensure their cotton is ethically sourced and free of forced labor. The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) advises companies to ensure their supply chains are not linked the Uyghur region.
Although the IOC has strict human rights requirements for Olympics host cities, the usual response to media inquiries about the controversial location is neutrality and a focus on the Games.
In December, a coalition representing ethnic minorities in China said in an open letter that the IOC has “turned a blind eye to the widespread and systematic human rights violations being committed by the Chinese authorities.”
The IOC is not the only entity with problematic uniforms. News recently broke that the Australian Olympic team uniforms are made by ASICS, a company that last month issued a statement announcing it would “continue to purchase and support [Uyghur Region] cotton.”
ASICS later walked back their statement just as the IOC claims that it received a certificate confirming that Uyghur Region cotton was not used to make their uniforms (but would not share said certificate with Axios).
Advocates are clear: Olympics stakeholders must take a stance against forced labor and crimes against humanity. In February, Freedom United signed a statement calling on the IOC to announce its human rights due diligence plan ahead of the Beijing 2022 Olympics.
According to the director of strategic research at the Worker Rights Consortium, Penelope Kyritsis, “The Olympics should have no association with corporations producing in the Uyghur Region. Partnering with a company that not only sources from the Uyghur Region but boasts about it in its product advertising is morally reprehensible.”
Help us keep up the pressure at this critical moment. Join the call on companies to stay out of the Uyghur Region.
Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.