On June 21, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) will come into effect in the U.S. to ban all imports from the Uyghur region. The forced labor of Uyghur and other ethnic minorities is so widespread that all products from the region are presumed to be tainted. This will mean a big change for companies and brands sourcing from China.
A story in Sustainable Brands reviews the impact of the law and how corporations will be required to provide transparency regarding their supply chains.
The role of corporations and the lack of due diligence
In a conversation with Sustainable Brands, Joanna Ewart-James, Executive Director of Freedom United, noted:
“Companies are responsible for ensuring that the goods that are coming into the US are not produced by forced labor. It’s the type of legislation that we haven’t seen before, but it makes complete sense.”
Until the upcoming implementation of the UFLPA, global brands did not respond to, paid little attention to, and took no action on damning allegations of systematic Uyghur forced labor. Brands have not limited their business ties with this region of China, where it is estimated that more than one million people from Turkic and other ethnic minority communities are subjected to crimes against humanity, including forced labor.
Despite some noteworthy exceptions, the voluntary brand-driven compliance system has not worked to address labor rights violations in global supply chains. Part of the reason is that this system creates an uneven playing field: ethical brands pay more to source from ethical suppliers, while those that don’t care about human rights can offer lower prices to cost-conscious consumers.
Global supply chains tainted with forced labor
The links between forced labor and the economy, of course, are not limited to China’s Uyghur region, or to cotton. As multiple investigations in recent years have shown, the global marketplace in multiple sectors is tainted with forced labor in multiple industries.
Recently, the non-governmental organization C4ADS published Everybody’s Business, in which it provides information on the situation in the Uyghur region’s agricultural and industrial sector, and identifies nine goods produced in disproportionately high volumes in the Uyghur region that are part of global supply chains: cotton, tomato products, pepper products, nuts, rayon, calcium carbide, polysilicon, wind turbines, and beryllium.
How the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act will work and the signal to other markets
Under the UFLPA, all products made in the Uyghur region are presumed to be made with forced labor, unless otherwise certified by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The law also forces companies to disclose their business in the Uyghur region, will create lists of Chinese companies that have used forced labor, and prohibit companies from sourcing from those companies.
Experts say this law may be an indication of future import laws in other countries. For example, Germany, Europe’s largest market, passed a mandatory human rights due diligence law last year that states that companies “must identify risks of human rights violations and environmental destruction at direct suppliers and, if they gain substantiated knowledge of a potential abuse, also at indirect suppliers.”
In addition, the European Union draft law regarding mandatory due diligence regulations could also provide further impetus for major European brands to engage with workers and address labor, social, and environmental risks in their supply chains if they don’t want to face potential legal and civil liabilities.
“It’s a historic opportunity to really scale good practices up, and make it mandatory for all large companies in the EU market,” said Johannes Blankenbach, Senior Western Europe Researcher at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.
The UFLPA is a first step toward eliminating slave labor from the global economy. The era of voluntary self-regulation to monitor labor violations in supply chains may be coming to an end. If brands want to continue sourcing in countries like China they are going to have to do more to ensure that they are not – intentionally or otherwise – perpetuating forced labor and other egregious human rights abuses.
We invite you to join us in taking action against Urban Outfitters to ask it do business ethically and provide accurate information regarding its supply chain. You can print your forced labor tag here, look for the Urban Outfitters closest to you, and hide this information in the pockets of any garment. Spread the word! Also, sign the petition to make the company take action!