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Tasnim Nazeer

How much of your stuff is linked to forced Uighur labour?

Major brands such as Apple, Adidas and Nike have been implicated in the report [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 March, 2020

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Comment: Big brands must be held responsible for forced Uighur labour, no matter how far down their supply chain, writes Tasnim Nazeer.
A new report conducted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI) has revealed harrowing evidence of China's exploitation of Uighur Muslims, including their transfer to factories across the country to carry out forced labour for foreign brands. 

The report, entitled "Uyghurs for Sale" estimates that more than 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories between 2017 and 2019, some sent directly from detention camps. China reportedly created a central government policy known as 'Xinjiang Aid', which assigned Uighur Muslims to factories through their labour transfer programmes. 

Researchers at APSI used open-source technology and satellite imagery to identify 83 well-known global consumer brands linked to factories where Uighur Muslims are thought to be working under forced labour conditions.

Many major brands such as Apple, Adidas and Nike have been implicated in the report, with some saying they are investigating the claims, and others saying they were unaware this had occurred.

Nike told the Washington Post it was "committed to upholding international labour standards globally" and that its suppliers were "strictly prohibited from using any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labour." The BBC reported that Apple had said it was "dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve".  

While these brands might reaffirm their commitment to ensuring the safety of Uighur Muslims, questions over accountability in global supply chains must be raised. If Uighurs were being transferred out of Xinjiang as early as 2017, how could global brands not know that it was occurring, and why haven't there been investigations into the identity of factory labourers? 

China reportedly created a central government policy which assigned Uighur Muslims to factories through their labour transfer programmes

Global brands including Adidas, Bosch and Panasonic told ASPI that they had "no direct contractual relationships with the suppliers indicated in the report, but no one could rule out a link further down their supply chain".

This excuse is unacceptable.

Global brands should inform themselves of the Chinese government's behaviour, and provide measures to ensure that Uighur Muslims are not being sold as pawns to be used in inhumane practices, such as forced labour. 

Many of the Uighur Muslims labouring in these Chinese factories are working in prison-style conditions, surrounded by barbed wire and police guards. Uighur Muslims are under constant surveillance by the Chinese government, making it difficult for them to refuse being sent out to work, fearing arbitrary detention or worse. 

It is the duty of the brands implicated in the report to investigate these allegations of human rights violations with their suppliers.

The report by APSI documented how companies using forced Uighur labour in their supply chains could find themselves in breach of laws which prohibit the importation of goods made with forced labour, or mandate disclosure of forced labour supply chain risks. 

This revelation comes in the wake of another leak which revealed a database exposing excuses made by China for the detention of hundreds of Uighur Muslims in Karakax County, in Xinjiang. This database showed evidence that Uighur Muslims were forced into "re-education" camps for being "visibly Muslim" - having a beard or wearing the headscarf. Confirmation, if ever it were needed, that the Chinese government is attempting to ethnically cleanse Uighur Muslims. 

Read more: The 'Karakax Leaks' are proof of China's cultural genocide against Xinjiang's Muslim Uighur population

Mounting evidence against the Chinese government is just another reason why China should be investigated by the International Criminal Court of Justice, holding the government to account for the mistreatment and persecution of Uighur Muslims.

Foreign governments must put pressure on China to end its illegal detention of Uighur Muslims, and ensure an end to forced labour for Uighur Muslims.

Muslim nations could also be doing a lot more to support their Uighur brothers and sisters, instead of shamelessly siding with China under the guise of combatting extremism. 

Since 2017, Uighur Muslims have been subjected to extrajudicial detentions, forced to renounce their faith and adopt a Han Chinese lifestyle against their will. China claims that these camps are "re-education" camps,  despite substantial evidence to suggest this is not the case, and that this is instead a genocide in the making. 

The global supply industry is now also tainted by China's coercive state-sponsored labour scheme, which puts the lives of Uighur Muslims at further risk. They are being sold by the Chinese government and yet the world continues to remain silent.

Neither the Chinese government, nor the brands complicit in the exploitation of Uighur Muslims must be allowed to escape the scrutiny required to protect Uighur lives.

 

Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Middle East Eye, CNN, BBC, and others. She was awarded the FIPP the global network of media Rising Stars in Media Award 2018.


Follow her on twitter: @tasnimnazeer1

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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