Amazon, BMW, Zara implicated – Companies exploit forced Uyghur labour in China

On 23 March I, together with cross-party group of Members of the European Parliament, wrote to Mr Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs to express our concern about the suspected Uyghur forced labour in various regions across China.

According to a recent report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), more than 80,000 Muslim Uyghurs and members of Kazakh minorities from the Xinjiang region have been subject to deportation and forced labour working conditions in Chinese factories, between 2017 and 2019. These allegations surfaced after international media published internal documents of the Chinese Communist Party. It is now clear that as part of a crackdown, many Uyghurs have been sent to “re-education centers”.

In the light of the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Xinjiang over recent years, these latest developments represent a highly concerning increase in human rights violations against the already vulnerable Uighur minority in China.

With China being one of the largest cotton producers in the world, more than 80 international brand-name corporations, including Amazon, BMW, Zara and Volkswagen, are now in the public eye for profiting directly or indirectly from these abuses, through supporting forced Uyghur labour in their supply chains.

Acknowledging the European Union’s continuous and outspoken commitment to respect and defend human rights worldwide, we believe that it is crucial to raise awareness on the issue.

The European Union needs to take a clear stance and demand transparency as well as justice regarding these atrocious human rights violations. To establish its role as a moral lighthouse, the European Union has to take the lead in urging the Chinese government to end the extrajudicial detention of Uyghurs and to ensure the self-determination of citizens regarding labour and mobility. European Union’s economic leverage and related tools, such as sanctions, have proven effective in the promotion of democracy and accountability abroad. It is time to make use of them, we feel.

In particular,  the Chinese government must be urged to ratify the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 1930 Convention on Forced Labour (No. 29), as well as the 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention.

Furthermore, due to the economic and labour exploitation of Uyghurs by the numerous multinational corporations, we consider it necessary for the EU to publicly condemn this practice.

It is furthermore imperative that as a champion of labour rights throughout its 27 member states, the European Union must take a step forward in demanding transparency in international supply chains by proposing an EU mandatory due-diligence framework. This would ensure adherence to its commitments not only within the EU but also beyond its borders and hold its trading partners accountable.

It is finally time the European companies and those trading in the EU area take measures to respect for human rights and fight modern-day slavery through forced labour, where ever in the world that may take place.