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China: Civil society organisations call on apparel brands & retailers to cut ties with suppliers allegedly using forced labour of ethnic minorities

Minority rights groups, civil society organisations and labour unions around the world have come together to call on apparel brands and retailers to cut ties with suppliers using the forced labour of ethnic minorities in the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang.

According to the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, as many as 1.8 million members of Muslim minorities have been detailed in the region. The report alleges that they have been subject to torture, political indoctrination and forced labour in mass internment camps.

The products produced through this forced labour are reportedly found in international apparel supply chains, with an estimated 1 in 5 cotton garments sold globally containing cotton and/or yarn from the region. Many global apparel brands allegedly maintain partnerships with Chinese suppliers that use forced labour through the Chinese government’s labour transfer programme.

Civil society organisations are calling on apparel brands and retailers to take meaningful action to ensure that their supply chains do not benefit from or facilitate forced labour in the region.

Company comments are included in the articles linked below.

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30 July 2020

Most fashion brands claim they have anti-forced labour policies when being urged to stop sourcing from Xinjiang, media report says

Author: Reuters

“Brands urged to stop sourcing from China's Xinjiang over forced labour fears”, 23 July 2020

… More than 180 organisations urged brands from Adidas to Amazon to end sourcing of cotton and clothing from the region and cut ties with any suppliers in China that benefit from the forced labour of the ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim groups…

While most fashion brands do not source from factories in Xinjiang, many of their supply chains are likely to be tainted by cotton picked by Uighurs that is exported across China and used by other suppliers, the rights groups said in a letter…

The Thomson Reuters Foundation sent emailed questions to more than 30 leading global retailers about their supply chains in China and the origins of the cotton they sourced.

Almost all of the brands did not respond directly to the questions, but most said they had anti-forced labour policies and required their suppliers to comply with a code of conduct.

Only one retailer - U.S.-based Costco - declined to comment.

All the companies that responded - including Gap, Patagonia and Zara-owner Inditex - said they did not source from factories in Xinjiang, but the majority could not confirm that their supply chain was free of cotton picked from the region.

Japanese retailer Muji said it used cotton from Xinjiang but that independent auditors had found “no evidence of accusations of forced labour ... at their mills”.

U.S.-based PVH - owner of brands from Calvin Klein to Tommy Hilfiger - said it would cut ties with any factories or mills that produce fabric or use cotton from Xinjiang within a year.

“The only way brands can ensure they are not profiting from exploitation is by exiting the region and ending relationships with suppliers propping up this Chinese government system,” said Jasmine O’Connor, chief executive of Anti-Slavery International.

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a global non-profit aiming to improve conditions in the garment sector, said in March it would no longer license so-called Better Cotton from Xinjiang.

Companies such as IKEA and H&M, who use BCI to source cotton, have previously said they backed the decision to suspend licensing in the region and would no longer source from there…

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23 July 2020

Esquel Group denies allegations of using forced labour in Xinjiang and appeals against US sanction

Author: South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

“Esquel Group, garment supplier to Tommy Hilfiger and Nike, says it’s seeking to overturn US sanction on its Xinjiang plant”, 21 July 2020

Esquel Group, one of the world’s largest garment producers and supplier for such brands as Tommy Hilfiger, Patagonia and Nike, said it has written to the US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to appeal against the decision by his office to put it on a sanctions list for hiring forced labour in Xinjiang.

“Let me be clear: Esquel does not use forced labour, and we never will use forced labour. We absolutely and categorically oppose forced labour. It is abhorrent and completely antithetical to Esquel’s principles and business practices,” Cheh [vice-chairman] said in his letter to Ross…

There is no evidence “to support the allegations” of forced labour, Chen said. Instead, “there is ample evidence that we do not use forced labour and in fact treat our Uygur employees…

The April 2017 Uygur Human Rights Project Report recognised Esquel as “perhaps the only overseas company that has attested to follow through to corporate pledges to hire Uygurs,” Cheh said…

Esquel has three spinning mills in Xinjiang… It also has two cotton ginning mills built in 2003…

The company would keep the mills running, Cheh said in an interview with the Post. No agency of any government nor any non-governmental organisation has presented such evidence to the allegation and no one from the Commerce Department spoke with anyone at Esquel about the allegations of using forced labour, Cheh said.

An independent audit of three spinning mills in Xinjiang, including Changji, by a leading global audit firm, ELEVATE, commissioned by one of its US customers, was carried out in May 2019, Esquel said.

“ELEVATE rated all three spinning mills with scores of 85 or above and confirmed that there was no forced labour of any kind,” Cheh said…

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23 July 2020

Coalition of human rights groups allege majority of global apparel sector complicit in forced labour of ethnic minorities in China

Author: Annie Kelly, The Guardian

“‘Virtually entire’ fashion industry complicit in Uighar forced labour, say rights groups”, 23 July 2020

Many of the world’s biggest fashion brands and retailers are complicit in the forced labour and human rights violations being perpetrated on millions of Uighur people in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China, says a coalition of more than 180 human rights groups.

… [T]he coalition of human rights groups says many of the world’s leading clothing brands continue to source cotton and yarn produced through a vast state-sponsored system of forced labour…

The coalition has published an extensive list of brands it claims continue to source from the region, or from factories connected to the forced labour of Uighur people, including Gap, C&A, Adidas, Muji, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.

The coalition says many more leading clothing brands also continue to maintain lucrative strategic partnerships with Chinese companies … benefiting from the forced labour of Uighur people…

According to the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), one of the signatories of the call to action, brands have no credible way of proving that their supply chains from the Xinjiang are free of forced labour.

In response, H&M and Ikea said they would stop buying cotton from the region … H&M said that it had an indirect relationship with one yarn producer operating in the region but said it was reviewing the relationship.

Muji confirmed ... “Our business partner [assures] us that the people who make our products have good working conditions and are treated with respect...”

A Uniqlo spokesperson said that no Uniqlo product is manufactured in the region and insists that all production partners in its supply chain uphold their codes of conduct on human and workers rights.

PVH Corporation [said] … it did not source finished garments from the region and would cease all business relationships with any factories and mills that produce garments or fabric, or use cotton grown, in Xinjiang within the next 12 months.

Adidas said it does not source goods from Xinjiang and have instructed its suppliers not to source yarn from the region.

A C&A spokesperson said it did not source from any manufacturers or work with any fabric or yarn mills in the region.

… [M]embers of the coalition said that it was not sufficient … to just sever direct relationships to suppliers but that a complete overhaul of the sector’s links to the region had to be undertaken.

Gap has been contacted for a response.

Read the full post here

23 July 2020

More than 180 civil society organisations issue call to action for apparel brands and retailers to end forced labour of ethnic minorities in China in their supply chains

Author: Clean Clothes Campaign

“180+ Orgs Demand Apparel Brands End Complicity in Uyghur Forced Labour”, July 2020

… 72 Uyghur rights groups … [and]

 over 100 civil society organisations [and] labour unions … [have called] on apparel brands and retailers to stop using forced labour in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region … and end their complicity in the Chinese government’s human rights abuses.

The groups have issued a call to action seeking brand commitments to cut all ties with suppliers implicated in forced labour and end all sourcing from the Uyghur Region…

“… To end the slavery and horrific abuses … brands must ensure their supply chains are not linked to the atrocities against these people…” said Jasmine O’Connor OBE, CEO of Anti-Slavery International.

The Chinese government has rounded up an estimated 1 to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim people in detention and forced-labour camps … A central element of the government’s strategy … is a vast system of forced labour…

… [A] Kazakh woman who was … subjected to forced labour in a factory said: “The clothes factory was no different from the [internment] camp. There were police, cameras, you couldn’t go anywhere.”

Despite global outrage at the abuses, leading apparel brands are bolstering and benefiting from the government’s assault on the peoples of the region … Roughly 1 in 5 cotton garments sold globally contains cotton and/or yarn from the Uyghur Region … Moreover, apparel brands maintain lucrative partnerships with Chinese corporations implicated in forced labour…

… Major corporations claim not to tolerate forced labour by their suppliers, but have offered no credible explanation as to how they can meet this standard while continuing to do business in a region where forced labour is rife.

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