Companies such as H&M and Adidas tell Sky News they don’t source from Xinjiang and that suppliers must stick to their policies.
International brands should cut ties with suppliers “implicated in the forced labour” of the Uighur people in China’s Xinjiang region, according to a new campaign.
More than 180 civil rights groups have asked companies to stop sourcing cotton, yarn, textiles and clothing from Xinjiang, and to prohibit supplier factories based outside Xinjiang from using Uighur or other ethnic minority workers.
“To end the slavery and horrific abuses of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic Muslim peoples by the Chinese government, brands must ensure their supply chains are not linked to the atrocities against these people,” said Jasmine O’Connor, chief executive of Anti-Slavery International.
Roughly a million Uighur people and other minorities have been detained in camps in Xinjiang, in northwest China, according to reports. The Chinese government has said the centres offer voluntary training and are necessary to combat extremism.
Activists say Uighurs who “graduate” from the centres are often sent to work into factories as part of a government scheme, which they describe as “forced labour”. In Chinese state media, this is often described as a poverty alleviation program.
According to the campaign, called Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uighur Region, the suppliers of brands including H&M, Nike, Adidas and Uniqlo have all been linked to forced labour. Several other companies are also named.
Nike, Uniqlo, H&M and Adidas all told Sky News that they require their production partners to adhere to their companies’ codes of conducts, which cover human and worker rights, and do not source goods from Xinjiang.
H&M also said that it did not work with any garment factories in Xinjiang but was reviewing an “indirect” business relationship with Huafu, a Chinese yarn producer, in a different province from Xinjiang.
Mamatjan Juma, a journalist at Radio Free Asia based in Washington DC, told Sky News that one of his brothers was in a “forced labour facility” in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.
“Right now he’s suffering low pay, low wages – if there’s any wages in one of those forced labour facilities,” Mr Juma said.
“Recently I was told that he’s making earphones. I don’t know if these earphones that I’m using are made by my brother. And he’s also making garments and flags.”
“My brother doesn’t have any freedom to leave. He cannot leave anytime he wants to. They are only allowed to leave whenever the officials in those factories allow them to leave.”
Mr Juma said many of the re-education centres were “being transformed into labour camps. So basically the camp inmates became factory workers.”
Rahima Mahmut, who is based in the UK and is a project director of the Uighur World Congress, an activist group, told Sky News: “It is humiliating and it is very painful for us Uighurs living in exile to think that even the goods that we are using, we ourselves are using, could be from my own people, imprisoned and forced to work in these factories.
“And we who live in the West, when we are buying these products, allowing companies whose supplies chains are contaminated by this forced labour – it is wrong.
“In the countries where you can stop this, you can do something about it. When there is no market, things can change.”
The campaign comes as governments are putting increasing pressure on the Chinese Communist Party over its treatment of the Uighurs.
British Foreign Secretary Dominc Raab has accused China of “gross and egregious” human rights abuses. Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy has called on the British government to apply sanctions against officials involved in alleged abuses.
A spokesperson from the Chinese embassy in the UK has said these allegations are “sheer lies” and “rights and interests of people of all ethnic groups are effectively safeguarded”.
Xinjiang is an ‘autonomous’ region of China, on the doorstep of central Asia, covering a territory six times bigger than the UK.
More than half its 24 million inhabitants come from Muslim ethnic minority groups. Most of them are Uighurs.
Over the last 15 years there have been deadly protests, riots and terrorism. As a result, the Chinese Communist Party has cracked down.
Starting in 2017, the first reports of a network of detention centres began to emerge – huge facilities all across Xinjiang where Uighurs were sent for ‘re-education’.
For a long time China denied their existence but later said they were ‘vocational training centres’, necessary to eradicate terrorism and extremism.