Last updated: March 2021
Who is the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region?
We are a broad and diverse coalition of civil society organisations, trade unions and investor groups from around the world united to end state-sponsored forced labour and other egregious human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples from the Uyghur Region in China, known to local people as East Turkistan.
To learn more about our coalition and for a full list of coalition Steering Committee members, we invite you to visit our About page.
What must companies do to ensure their supply chains are not tainted by forced labour of Uyghurs?
In July 2020, our Coalition launched our Call to Action, seeking commitments from brands and retailers to:
- Stop sourcing cotton and other raw materials, yarn, textiles, and finished products from the Uyghur Region. Since cotton and yarn from the region is used to make textiles and finished goods across China and in numerous other countries, this requires brands to explicitly direct all factories that supply them with textiles and finished goods not to use cotton, yarn or other materials from the Uyghur region.
- Cut ties with companies implicated in forced labour – those that have operations in the Uyghur region and have accepted government subsidies and/or government-supplied labour at these operations.
- Prohibit any supplier factories located outside of the Uyghur Region from using Uyghurs and other Turkic or Muslim-majority peoples supplied through the Chinese government’s forced labour transfer scheme.
Why is the fashion industry the focus of the Coalition’s Call to Action? What about other sectors?
The Uyghur Region accounts for more than 20% of the world’s cotton output. China is also the world’s largest exporter of cotton yarn, fabric, and garments, some of which are produced in facilities in the Uyghur Region and elsewhere in China that use the forced labor of Uyghurs. This means that at least 1 in 5 cotton garments in the global apparel market are tainted with Uyghur forced labour, which creates a significant risk of regulatory and ethical violations by the fashion industry.
The risk of Uyghur forced labour, however, is not limited to fashion. Other sectors at risk include polysilicon (raw material used in the production of solar panels), tomatoes, electronics and paper pulp.
The Coalition calls for all industries to take the comparable measures outlined in the Call to Action.
Will it make things better for Uyghurs if all companies just leave the Uyghur Region? What about ‘unintended consequences’?
Uyghurs in the diaspora who are able to exercise free expression uniformly demand that brands and retailers exit the region, and comply with each of the elements outlined in the Coalition’s Call to Action. Over 70 Uyghur groups have endorsed the Call to Action. Businesses and governments must listen to what these groups – who act as the credible representatives of the victims in the Uyghur Region – demand.
Forced labour of Uyghurs is not perpetrated by individual employers who could potentially be identified and screened out through traditional due diligence methods.. The government of China is perpetrating systematic state-organized forced labour against Uyghurs as an instrument of repression. When forced labour is a widespread or systematic violation committed in furtherance of a state policy, it constitutes a crime against humanity under international law. The widespread forced labour regime for Uyghurs is an integral part of a broader Chinese government strategy of repression, which includes other egregious abuses: arbitrary detention, political indoctrination, forced sterilisation and forced abortion, family separation, torture, sexual violence and a pervasive surveillance apparatus.
These repressive government policies have cultivated an acute climate of fear that prevents Uyghur workers from choosing employment freely, and prevents individual brands and retailers from using their leverage to put an end to these abuses at a given workplace.
Why is the Coalition’s focus on brands, what about governments?
All businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights in their supply chains, regardless of where they operate. This is recognised by international standards including the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights. These standards note that when companies do not have the control or influence (‘leverage’) to improve conditions, they should exit business relationships. Our Call to Action demands that brands meet this responsibility, by fully exiting the Uyghur Region and ensuring they do not work with any suppliers complicit in the abuses of Uyghurs.
In addition to seeking commitments from brands and retailers to ensure that they are not profiting from or complicit in Uyghur forced labour, we are urging national governments to strengthen and enforce existing laws prohibiting trade in goods produced using forced labour, and to adopt and implement binding laws requiring human rights due diligence in supply chains. For example, Coalition members led advocacy leading to the US import ban on cotton from the Uyghur Region, and Coalition members are also involved in advocacy focused upon other US, EU, UK, Canadian, Australian, and multilateral mechanisms and policy instruments, including the OECD and UN bodies such as the ILO.
Which brands are at risk of using Uyghur forced labour in their supply chains?
Virtually the entire apparel and footwear industry is tainted by forced Uyghur and Turkic Muslim labour. Sadly, currently we cannot simply list a few brands which are implicated – the reality is that virtually any brand retailing or using cotton products produced in China is at risk of profiting from Uyghur forced labour. Our goal is to change that.
Our Brands page is updated regularly to include a list of companies that have publicly committed to exiting the region. A number of brands and retailers, including major global fashion brands, have privately committed to the Coalition’s Call to Action, pending public announcements in the coming months.
Some brands have put out statements saying they have no risks in their supply chain, but I don’t see them on the list of committed brands. Is their commitment credible?
Right now, most brands and retailers understand that they are at high risk of complicity in the Uyghur forced labour crisis, and are publishing statements about their general stance on forced labour without undertaking the requisite due diligence actions to ensure their actual business practices line up with their values. This is not enough, as there are several ways supply chains may be compromised without the explicit knowledge of the parent brand.
The Coalition’s Call to Action is the only commitment endorsed by the global Uyghur community as being credible and sufficiently robust to address the severity of the issue. It includes a comprehensive exit plan that satisfies the minimum benchmark of accountability.
By committing to the Call to Action, a brand or retailer is providing assurance both to our Coalition – but also, crucially, to Uyghurs worldwide and to consumers – that it will take all steps within its control to ensure it is not profiting from the abuses of Uyghurs. Moreover, it is currently the only commitment that is independently verifiable.
I am a brand. What do I need to do to sign up to the Call to Action?
Brands that wish to become signatories of the Call to Action must contact the Coalition by emailing [email protected] and provide the Coalition with a credible action plan for complying with each of the elements outlined in the Call to Action. The Coalition has a brand-specific FAQ, which can be requested by email.
What can civil society do?
Consumers can call on their favourite brands to commit to the Call to Action. All progress to date has only been possible with the support of people around the world petitioning governments, writing to brands, and using social media to raise awareness about the issue and build an even bigger movement. There are numerous ways to help. Activists have created a website with specific actions to take: https://www.forcedlabourfashion.org/.
Civil society organisations can endorse the Call to Action and publicly condemn the practice of forced labour in the Uyghur Region at this link. They can also reach out to the Coalition if they are interested in becoming more directly involved.