UK urged to stop cotton imports made in Chinese 'prison camps'

Published by REUTERS.COM

Summary generated on August 10, 2020

    LONDON - Major brands are turning a blind eye to forced labour on a scale not seen since World War Two, lawyers and campaigners said on Thursday as they urged Britain to halt imports of cotton goods originating from China's Xinjiang region.

    They named H&M, IKEA, Uniqlo and Muji among companies selling merchandise made with cotton from Xinjiang where the United Nations estimates at least a million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in massive camps.

    H&M and IKEA said the organisation through which their suppliers source cotton had recently announced it would no longer be approving cotton from Xinjiang.

    In a letter to the British government, the World Uyghur Congress and the Global Legal Action Network said there was "Overwhelming evidence" that Uighurs were being used for forced labour in China's cotton industry.

    They urged Britain to carry out an investigation and suspend imports made with cotton from the region unless companies could prove they were not produced with forced labour.

    More than 80% of China's cotton comes from Xinjiang, a large region in the northwest, which is home to about eleven million Uighurs.

    In its letter to Britain's HMRC customs authority, GLAN and the Uighur rights group said imports of cotton sourced in Xinjiang violated British laws, including legislation prohibiting the importation of prison-made goods.

    They outlined evidence they said demonstrated China's widespread use of forced labour by Uighurs in its cotton industry - both in processing raw cotton and in turning it into clothing and other goods.

    It said it sourced all of its cotton from China through the Better Cotton Initiative, a global non-profit committed to improving working conditions in the sector.

    The BCI said in March it would no longer license so-called Better Cotton from Xinjiang for the 2020-21 cotton season and had contracted an outside expert to review the situation.