An international coalition called on fashion and garment giants Thursday to break supply chains from the Xinjiang region of China and cut ties with those implicated in Uighur forced labor within the next year.
The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region, an international group of rights, civil society and trade organizations, warned that one-fifth of the cotton garments “in the global apparel market are tainted by forced labour.”
“We are calling on leading brands and retailers to ensure that they are not supporting or benefiting from the pervasive and extensive forced labour of the Uyghur population and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples, perpetrated by the Chinese government,” the group said in a statement on its website.
Warning that “almost every major apparel brand and retailer selling cotton products is potentially implicated,” it urged brands and retailers to exit the region “at every level of their supply chain” no later than one year after making the commitment.
It said that more than 200 organizations from over 35 countries had endorsed its call.
China has come under increasing international pressure, including from the US, over its treatment of Uighurs, a Muslim-majority ethnic group who live mainly in western Xinjiang.
More than one million Uighurs and mostly Muslim Turkic minorities have been rounded up in internment camps, according to human rights groups and experts.
China contends that the facilities are vocational education centers where Uighurs learn Mandarin and job skills in order to steer them away from extremism following a spate of ethnic violence.
Major US retailers responded to the call to action Thursday by saying that rooting out forced labor in their supply chains is a “key priority”.
However, a joint statement from the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, and other industry groups, did not say if they would sign the call.
Instead, they wrote that the solution requires “state-to-state engagement and collaborative partnerships across government, industry, labor advocacy groups, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders”.
The statement called for US leaders to establish “a multi-stakeholder working group to develop and deploy a collective approach that accurately assesses the problem, identifies constructive solutions to increase transparency, and protects both the rights of workers and the integrity of global supply chains.”