Seafood Imports in More Than 20 Countries Implicated in Uyghur Forced Labour
Companies and governments must take immediate action to end the industry’s reliance on crimes against humanity
October 17, 2023
All seafood companies must fully exit the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Uyghur Region) and trace their supply chains to ensure that no suppliers or sub-suppliers are participating in government-sponsored labour transfer of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples. A sweeping investigation by the Outlaw Ocean Project found that since 2018, thousands of Uyghur people have been transferred under coercive conditions from the Uyghur Region to work in forced labour conditions in major seafood processing hubs thousands of miles away.
Many of the seafood imports identified by the investigation, The Uyghurs Forced to Process the World’s Fish, are currently entering the United States, which bans the importation of all goods made with Uyghur forced labour, including state labour transfer programs, through the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. The investigators also found seafood imports going to the UK, Germany, Canada, and France. Major retailers, including Tesco, Walmart, Costco, and Carrefour, are all named as at risk of selling tainted seafood, due to their alleged supply chain links to the importers identified in the reporting.
The investigation further exposes the ineffectiveness of corporate audits and how traditional due diligence tools are not designed to identify state-imposed forced labour. The report found that half the Chinese exporters linked to Uyghur labour that sell to major brands had recently passed audits, including those by auditing giant Sedex. Further, researchers found that some of the companies implicated are certified as ‘sustainable’ by schemes like the Marine Stewardship Council.
The government of China’s well-documented repression against Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples includes mass arbitrary detention and systematic state-imposed forced labour that, according to UN human rights experts, may constitute crimes against humanity. This involves both multiple forms of involuntary labour at workplaces across the Region and even in other parts of China, in multiple industries including apparel, automotive, PVC flooring, agriculture, solar panels, and now seafood.
Governments and seafood companies alike have both the power and responsibility to immediately take action to eliminate the industry’s reliance on Uyghur forced labour.
- All companies should urgently trace their entire supply chain, address any points of exposure to Uyghur forced labour, and fully exit the Uyghur Region including immediately terminating any direct or indirect relationships linked to Uyghur forced labour at every tier of their supply chain.
- All companies must conduct due diligence, including desk-based research in Chinese language, to identify whether any suppliers have participated in state labour transfer programs. If participation in state-sponsored labour transfers of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority people is identified, the company must use any leverage it has to end those suppliers’ (or sub suppliers’) participation in these programs on an expedited basis. If a supplier is unwilling to end participation promptly and expeditiously, the only responsible option a company has is to end that business relationship.
- Companies must not rely on audits, which are wholly inadequate to identify state-imposed forced labour in processing facilities. In order to determine whether a supplier in China, outside of the Uyghur Region, is engaging in forced labour through labour transfers from the Uyghur Region, companies should actively seek clear and convincing evidence of fair recruitment practices, freedom of movement for workers, salary, holidays, and social security payments.
- Governments around the world should enact and robustly enforce import control legislation banning imports of goods made with forced labour. This legislation must include appropriate mechanisms to address state-imposed forced labour, such as the ability to restrict the importation of goods from a region or specific product groups.
- Impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities that are responsible for, or benefit from, forced labour.
- Use all possible mechanisms to pressure the Chinese government to end forced labour and human trafficking in the Uyghur Region.