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3 Nov 2020

Eva Xiao, Wall Street Journal (USA)

China: Five audit firms to stop labour-audits in Xinjiang amidst concerns on restricted access

"Auditors to Stop Inspecting Factories in China’s Xinjiang Despite Forced-Labor Concerns", 21 September 2020

At least five or­ga­ni­za­tions say they won’t help com­pa­nies au­dit their sup­ply chains in China’s Xin­jiang re­gion, where human­ rights ac­tivists say a po­lice s­tate at­mos­phere and gov­ern­ment con­trols make it too dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine whether fac­to­ries and farms are re­ly­ing on forced la­bor. [...] Western brands from Gap Inc. to Kraft Heinz Co. have come un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to stop sourc­ing from Xin­jiang, a ma­jor pro­ducer of cot­ton and toma­toes. [...]

To re­spond to the con­cerns, some Western brands have turned to out­side com­pa­nies or non­prof­its to vet their sup­pli­ers. Hu­man-rights and la­bor ac­tivists, how­ever, ar­gue that au­di­tors risk be­com­ing en­ablers that help brands jus­tify sourc­ing in Xin­jiang, and that, given the lack of ac­cess and heavy polic­ing in the re­gion, they can’t re­al­is­ti­cally carry out proper ex­am­i­na­tions of fac­to­ries. Bei­jing has de­nied the ex­is­tence of forced Uighur la­bor. [...]

Five or­ga­ni­za­tions have told The Wall Street Jour­nal they won’t pro­vide la­bor-au­dit or in­spec­tion ser­vices in Xin­jiang, in­clud­ing Bureau Ver­i­tas SA of France, TÜV SÜD AG of Ger­many, Sumerra LLC of the U.S., RINA SpA of Italy, as well as Amer­i­can non­profit cer­ti­fi­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion World­wide Re­spon­si­ble Ac­cred­ited Pro­duc­tion. Three of the five—Bureau Ver­i­tas, TÜV SÜD and WRAP—have pre­vi­ously con­ducted or com­mis­sioned la­bor au­dits in the re­gion.

Some groups the Jour­nal con­tacted ac­knowl­edged the chal­lenges of de­tect­ing forced la­bor in Xin­jiang, but said they are con­cerned that black­list­ing the re­gion could push abuses fur­ther un­der­ground. [...]