Global Coalition Demands Corporations Act in Wake of New U.N. Report Citing Possible Crimes Against Humanity in Uyghur Region

Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region implores textiles, technology, agriculture industries to exit the region entirely

August 26, 2022

Following the release of a U.N. expert report concluding that forced labour is occurring in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Uyghur Region) of China and that some instances may constitute a crime against humanity, the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region is demanding urgent action from corporations to review their supply chains and eliminate any ties to the region and Uyghur forced labour.

The report from U.N. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoyo Obokata, one of the foremost international experts in contemporary forms of slavery, concludes that there is “forced labour among Uyghur, Kazakh and other ethnic minorities in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing.” Nearly twenty percent of the world’s cotton is produced in the Uyghur Region, as well as forty-five percent of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon, which is necessary for solar panel production. Corporations around the world are complicit in Uyghur forced labour as these goods infiltrate supply chains and flood the marketplace. The Coalition is therefore calling for urgent action to end corporate complicity in the forced labour scheme with immediate effect. 

In one of the most significant assessments of labour practices in the Uyghur Region, the report finds that “given the nature and extent of powers exercised over affected workers during forced labour, including excessive surveillance, abusive living and working conditions, restriction of movement through internment, threats, physical and/or sexual violence and other inhuman or degrading treatment, some instances may amount to enslavement as a crime against humanity.” 

“We welcome this report from Dr. Obokata as it brings attention to the accounts so many Uyghur people have provided about the plight of the people in the region,” said Omer Kanat, Executive Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

“This report is authoritative evidence for a point we have made from the beginning of our campaign: companies cannot credibly audit Xinjiang supply chains due to intimidation and coercive violence perpetrated against Uyghur workers by the government of China. Companies therefore have the obligation to sever all links to the Uyghur Region and governments should take action to ban products originating from the region from entering their markets,” said Joanna Ewart-James, Executive Director of Freedom United.

The U.S. Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), bans all imports from the Uyghur Region unless the importer can provide “clear and convincing evidence” that forced labour was not involved in its production, but similar measures are needed in other countries to ensure that goods made with Uyghur forced labour are not sold in other major markets. The European Commission is set to announce a proposal for a forced labour instrument in September. Coalition members have called for the law to be designed to include a regional scope, to address industries where the use of Uyghur forced labour is systematic, such as textiles.

The Coalition continues to call for the release of a report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet,  following her widely criticised visit to the Uyghur Region. Following the trip, the Coalition called for the High Commissioner to ensure the report incorporates extensive evidence on forced labour and strong recommendations for multilateral and private sector actions to combat it.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur’s report underscores the need for meaningful action by the government of China to end its persecution of Uyghurs, including the use of systematic forced labour. Although the government ratified two International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions prohibiting forced labour following the publication of a report earlier this year from the ILO Committee of Experts expressing concern, it has not taken any credible steps to end the practice or provide accountability. The Coalition urges the ILO’s supervisory system, and in particular the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, to take note of the U.N. Special Rapporteur’s report in its forthcoming observations as to China’s failure to comply with ratified conventions.