Close to 200 international labor, civil society, and human rights groups have joined calls on apparel brands and retailers to stop doing business in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where forced labor is reportedly continued to be practiced.
The groups have issued a “call to action” this week, seeking brand commitments to cut all ties with suppliers implicated in forced labor and to end all sourcing from the country’s Xinjiang — from cotton to finished garments — within 12 months.
“The only way brands can ensure they are not profiting from the exploitation is by exiting the region and ending relationships with suppliers propping up this Chinese government system,” said Jasmine O’Connor of the group Anti-Slavery International.
Human rights groups have reported that over a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of other ethnic groups have been reported detained without charges in political re-education camps in the region.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a human rights organization specializing in freedom of religion, reported that the “strength of evidence leaves no doubt that mass detentions are taking place” in the Uyghur region, a violation of domestic and international laws.
“Now is the time for real action from brands, governments and international bodies, not empty declarations,” read a CSW statement released July 23.
The human rights group quoted Gulzira Auelkhan, a Kazakh woman who was formerly detained in an internment camp and then subjected to forced labor in a factory, as saying that the factory “was no different from the [internment] camp.”
“There were police, cameras, you couldn’t go anywhere,” she said.
Amidst protests from various international groups, CSW noted that leading apparel brands are “bolstering and benefiting from the government’s assault on the peoples of the region.”
“Brands continue to source millions of tons of cotton and yarn from the Uyghur region,” read the group’s statement.
The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region, which issued the call to action, estimated that roughly one in five cotton garments sold globally contains cotton and/or yarn from Xinjiang.
The group also alleged that apparel brands maintain lucrative partnerships with Chinese corporations implicated in forced labor.
“There is extensive and credible evidence of forced labor in the [region], which is completely unacceptable,” said Benedict Rogers East Asia team leader of CSW.
Rogers said brands and retailers should not continue to turn a blind eye to the plight of Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the region.
From 2017, the Chinese authorities are thought to have rounded up between 1-3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, detaining them in detention facilities across the region in a bid to reshape their religious and political worldview.