Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), has opened an investigation into complaints about the overseas operations of the popular brand Nike and mining company Dynasty Gold.
The complaints were filed against a total of 13 Canadian companies in June 2022 by a coalition of 28 civil society organizations. The complaints allege that Uyghur forced labor was used in the operations or supply chains of the accused companies either currently or in the past. CORE stated that complaints against the other 11 companies were still being assessed and will be reported on in the coming weeks.
The investigation will be closely watched as it is the first one since the 2021 launch of the government complaint mechanism. The purpose of CORE is to monitor and investigate Canadian human rights abuses abroad and their main focus is on Canadian garment, mining and oil and gas companies. The agency will be investigating if Nike has been selling products that may contain Uygher forced labor and if Dynasty Gold has Uyghurs working in their mining supply chain.
Uyghurs can’t wait
Under the guise of fighting terrorism, China has long been rounding up and imprisoning Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region and, amongst other human rights violations, forcing them to carry out various types of labor. Textiles, solar panels, auto manufacturing, and mining/precious metals are among just a few of the sectors plagued with this form of forced prison labor in China. In its report last year the UN Special Rapporteur said:
“(It is)…reasonable to conclude that forced labor among Uighur, Kazakh and other ethnic minorities in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing has been occurring in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China.”
In 2021 an independent tribunal in the U.K. found that China is committing genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. The United Nations human rights chief said that China’s ongoing and well documented treatment of Uyghurs may constitute crimes against humanity.
While there have been steps in the right direction with the EU, U.S. and Canada as well as other nations passing legislation aimed at stopping goods made with Uyghur forced labor being imported into their countries, more needs to be done. Consumers need to keep up the pressure and continue to demand effective, meaningful responses to Uyghur forced labor found in supply chains.
Some bark but no bite
One major issue for much of the new forced labor legislation is weak enforcement mechanisms. When it comes to the impact of this or any investigation by CORE, whether or not strong evidence of forced labor is uncovered and the companies are found “guilty”, CORE lacks any teeth to follow-up their findings.
The watchdog can only refer their report to a parliamentary committee for further action as CORE has no legal powers to prosecute or enact any consequences. This exhaustive process means that any bite Nike or Dynasty Gold may feel from a guilty verdict and a supply chain tainted by forced labor is far down the line. But action can take many forms.
“In March, an activist shareholder called on Nike to offer more transparency on the working conditions of its supply chain.” reported Al Jazeera
Like the activist Nike shareholder, Freedom United calls on citizens everywhere to stand up and demand more transparency in supply chains coupled with faster penalties for transgressions and to help expose Uyghur forced labor and any form of modern slavery poisoning our markets.
Keep up the pressure!
Dynasty Gold has said that the accusations in the complaint are “totally unfounded” and Nike Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment. While we wait for the investigation’s outcome, it is business as usual for Nike and Dynasty Gold.
But thanks to building public and consumer pressure globally, the call for corporations everywhere to prove they have a clean supply chain is growing. Advocacy groups like Freedom United will continue to lead efforts to hold companies accountable.
Sign the petition calling for an end to Uyghur forced labor today!