Brands of shame

Nick Lowles - 30 06 20

Nike, Adidas, Apple and BMW are among a host of American and European companies to use as many as 80,000 ethnic Uyghurs who have been “transferred” to factories across China over the last three years.

The claims have been made by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), who recently produced a well-researched report on forced Uyghur labour.

Uyghurs’ placement in factories outside Xinjiang (known colloquially as Occupied East Turkestan) has been conducted under a central government policy known as “Xinjiang Aid.” Factory bosses receive money for each Uyghur worker they employ, who are recruited from specialist online booking services. One such ad, claiming to be able to supply 1,000 Uyghur workers aged 16 to 18 years, read: “The advantages of Xinjiang workers are: semi-military style management, can withstand hardship, no loss of personnel … Minimum order 100 workers!” 

The Chinese authorities claim that these workers are paid properly for their labour, but the ASPI researchers found they live in segregated dormitories, are unable to go home, and they undergo Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours, similarly to Uyghurs in the internment camps.

The ASPI identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces using Uyghur labour transferred from the north west province since 2017. Together, these factories supply goods and materials to 83 well-known global brands.

“It is extremely difficult for Uyghurs to refuse or escape these work assignments, which are enmeshed with the apparatus of detention and political indoctrination both inside and outside of Xinjiang,” the report claims.In addition to constant surveillance, the threat of arbitrary detention hangs over minority citizens who refuse their government-sponsored work assignments.”

The report carries three case studies. The first, is a factory in eastern China that manufactures shoes for US company Nike which is surrounded by watchtowers, barbed-wire fences and police guard boxes. The ASPI claim that “the Uyghur workers, unlike their Han counterparts, are reportedly unable to go home for holidays.”

The second is of a factory which purportedly supplies sportswear to Adidas and Fila, where evidence suggests that Uyghur workers were transferred directly from one of the ‘re-education camps’.

The third, involves several Chinese factories making components for Apple or their suppliers using Uyghur labour and where political indoctrination is a key part of their job assignments.

This significant report, written by Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, draws on open-source Chinese-language documents, satellite imagery analysis, academic research and on-the-ground media reporting.

Among the 83 well-known companies which appear to use factories where forced Uyghur labour operates, are clothing giants Adidas, Nike, North Face, Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo, Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria Secret.

Also using these factories are the car giants BMW, Mercedes Benz, General Motors and the iconic British brands – Jaguar and Land Rover.

Computer and electronic makers Apple, Dell, Panasonic, Microsoft, Sony and Bosch are also implicated.

Now this information is out in the public domain, ignorance can no longer be an excuse for these well-known brands to continue to use forced labour in their products. At the very least they should all commit to inspecting these factories with independent experts to ensure no collusion or cover-up, and if evidence of forced labour is found then to make it stop or even find alternative suppliers.

Many Governments probably feel powerless to force China to stop its horrendous treatment of the Uyghur, but we – as consumers – can exert huge pressure on the household brands that are profiting from this abuse. If they won’t act, then we will.


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