Press Release: UK Parliament Calls Leading Apparel Brands to Testify on their Potential Complicity in Forced Uyghur Labour

31 human and labour rights orgs submit group testimony, calling for action to compel brands to exit the region

On Thursday, 5th November the Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee of the UK Parliament will hold a hearing to determine, “the extent to which business in the UK are exploiting the forced labor of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of China.” Companies operating in the UK were called to submit evidence including: Adidas, Amazon, BooHoo Group, Gap (Gap Inc.), H&M Group, IKEA, Marks and Spencer, Nike, Puma, Stella McCartney, The North Face (VF Corporation), The Walt Disney Company, TikTok (ByteDance), Victoria’s Secret, and Zara (Inditex). For the first time the companies are facing direct scrutiny of their supply chains. Apparel brands source millions of tonnes of cotton and yarn from the Uyghur Region (also known as Xinjiang). One in five cotton garments sold to consumers globally contains material from the region.

The inquiry comes amidst growing recognition of the vast system of forced labour, affecting factories and farms across the region and China, where the Chinese government has rounded up roughly 1-1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim people into internment camps. It is the largest internment on the basis of ethnic and religious identity since World War II. Abuses include sterilisation, forced labour, family separation, mass arbitrary detention, and imprisonment.

Members and endorsers of the 300+ coalition to End Forced Uyghur Labor, including Anti-Slavery International, CORE Coalition, Labour behind the Label, Rene Cassin, Trade Union Congress and World Uyghur Congress, submitted testimony in advance. The signatories to the submission have urged the UK Government to take urgent action to ensure that businesses operating in the UK are not benefitting from the abuses of the Uyghurs. The UK government must act upon the submission by Global Legal Action Network and World Uyghur Congress in April 2020 to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), requesting the suspension of the import of products produced in part or in whole in the Uyghur Region through the Foreign Prison-Made Goods Act 1897. Further, the signatories have called for the UK Government to urgently introduce legislation which compels UK businesses to prevent human rights abuses in their supply chains, holding them liable if they fail to do so.

Read the testimony here.

In September, US and UK-based human rights, labour and investor organisations filed a formal petition with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), urging it to issue a regional withhold release order (WRO) on all cotton-made goods linked to the Xinjiang region of China based on evidence of widespread forced labour. Shortly thereafter the Wall Street Journal revealed that five auditing companies have essentially blacklisted the Uyghur Region due to government restrictions and the climate of terror, which prevents workers from speaking freely to auditors without risking retaliation. This means that companies can no longer point to auditing reports to justify sourcing from the Uyghur Region. 

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Photo by Amy-Leigh Barnard on Unsplash