End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition Demands Companies Disclose Corporate Lobbying Against the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act

Dec 15, 2020

Washington, DC— Today, the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region (Coalition) has written to 17 leading consumer companies – adidas, Amazon, Apple, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Gap, Heinz, Inditex, Kohl’s, L Brands, Nike, Nordstrom, PVH, Ross, Target, TJX and Walmart – demanding that they come clean about their stance on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S.3471).

The bill is designed to end the use of Uyghur forced labor in corporate supply chains by banning all imports with content from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (also known as the Uyghur Region) — unless the brand importing the product can prove it was not made with forced labor. The bill takes unprecedented steps to enforce already existing US laws on trade in goods produced with forced labor. On September 22, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (H.R. 6210) 406 to 3. 

“We know forced labor is widespread and systematic in Xinjiang. We also know that many global corporations are complicit in the exploitation of Uyghur forced labor and these products continue to make their way into global supply chains and our country. The House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Act back in September by an overwhelming vote of 406-3. It is long past time for the Senate to stand up to the Chinese government and stop listening to corporate lobbyists who are working to weaken the legislation,” said Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) and the sponsor of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

The Coalition strongly urges the US Senate to pass this as a standalone bill or as part of the larger omnibus budget. 

“The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act puts US and international companies on notice: if you import any goods from the Uyghur Region, you are complicit in human rights crimes against our people,” said Rushan Abbas, Executive Director at Campaign for Uyghurs. “With this bill’s eventual passage, the US will be able to hold companies accountable if they try to import goods connected to the Chinese government-sponsored labor camps, and should be a wake up call to every other country to end business as usual.”

In response to growing bi-partisan support for the bill, and mounting pressure from Uyghur, human, and labor rights groups to divest from the Uyghur Region, corporations— such as AppleNike, and Coca-Cola— are reportedly lobbying the U.S. Senate to weaken or halt the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

“Companies need to come clean about their corporate lobbying on this bill and the Senate must pass this bill as is,” said Cathy Feingold, xxx. “By uncovering back room attempts to water down the bill, the public now knows that household brands have spun lie after lie to cover up their ties to factory camps in the Uyghur Region and skirt corporate liability. Without these public disclosures or accountability, we can only assume their goal is to continue to profit off the forced labor of the Uyghur people.” 

Many of the same companies, such as Nike, have claimed zero tolerance for forced labor in their supply chains, citing their codes of conduct and private auditing efforts to comply with these commitments without any public accountability. Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that many major auditing firms have agreed to cease labor compliance audits in the region, recognizing that the only purpose such audits serve in such a repressive environment is to give a false impression of due diligence.

“Corporations attempting to weaken or nix the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act know that they cannot supply proof that their imported products are not made with forced labor,” said Scott Nova, Executive Director at the Worker Rights Consortium. “Without signing the Coalition’s Call to Action, their corporate lobbying is further evidence that some US corporations intend to maintain their supply chains in the Uyghur Region no matter how egregious the labor and human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim peoples.”

The Coalition strongly urges textile and apparel companies to disclose their lobbying on this bill as well as sign on to the Call to Action on Human Rights Abuses in the Uyghur Region.

On July 23, 2020, the Coalition to End Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region issued a call to action seeking brands to commit to cutting all ties with suppliers implicated in forced labor and end all sourcing from the Uyghur Region, from cotton to finished garments. The Call to Action is endorsed by over 300 civil society groups, trade unions, Uyghur groups, and investor organizations from 35+ countries.

Last week, the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced a Withhold Release Order (WRO), which would block imports of all products containing cotton produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), in response to widespread concerns over the use of forced labor. The XPCC is a Chinese government paramilitary organization that dominates the energy and agricultural sectors in the Uyghur Region and has thousands of subsidiary companies, and controls approximately a third of the region’s cotton production— six percent of all cotton globally.

“The ban on XPCC cotton products raises the stakes for global retailers and brands to disentangle their supply chains from Uyghur forced labor,” said Allison Gill, Forced Labor Program Director at Global Labor Justice–International Labor Rights Forum, a member of the Coalition’s Steering Committee. “But for companies to have Uyghur forced labour-free products, companies need to stop back-channeling to kill legislation, and affirm their own standards by signing the Call to Action and divesting from supply chains using Uyghur forced labour.”

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Statement by Rep. Susan Wild Calling on U.S. Senate to Pass Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act:

I am proud to stand alongside the AFL-CIO and all members of the global End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition in calling on the United States Senate to immediately pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in its current form.

The House of Representatives passed this legislation by a resounding margin of 306 votes—bringing together almost every member of the House, Republicans and Democrats alike. Together, members of both parties sent an unequivocal message: the use of Uyghur forced labor in corporate supply chains must end right now.

By banning all imports with content from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region—unless the relevant company can prove its product was not made with forced labor—this legislation would mark a long-overdue step on the path toward ending mass human rights violations against the Uyghur people.

Since 2017, the Chinese government has placed at least one million Uyghurs in detention camps in Xinjiang—including family members of a constituent of mine, in Pennsylvania’s 7th District. The Chinese government’s indiscriminate targeting of members of this community because of their faith or ethnicity constitutes one of the gravest examples of mass human rights violations anywhere in the world.

As officials in the United States and in democratic nations around the globe work together to seek an end to these horrific abuses, it is imperative that all companies—no matter how powerful—are held to the basic standard of not using the forced labor of detained men, women, and children. By passing this provision into law, the United States can lead the way toward securing a future in which the fundamental rights and dignity of the Uyghur people are respected.

My colleagues in the U.S. Senate have a historic opportunity to seize this moment and place our nation on the right side of history. They cannot abdicate their moral responsibility—they must pass this bill.

As long as I have my vote in the United States Congress, I will continue standing with brothers and sisters in the labor movement—both here at home and around the world. Together, we can shape a future of rights and dignity for all.

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Background:

The Chinese government has rounded up a recorded estimate of 1-to-3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples in detention and forced-labour camps, the largest internment of an ethnic and religious group since World War II. Abuses include sterilizationviolenceforced labor and imprisonment of Uyghur and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples. A central element of the government’s strategy to dominate the Uyghur people is a vast system of forced labour, affecting factories and farms across the region and China, both inside and beyond the internment camps.

On August 28, the AFL-CIO, Corporate Accountability Lab, Freedom United, Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum, Human Trafficking Legal Center, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Investor Alliance for Human Rights, Uyghur American Association, Uyghur Human Rights Project, and World Uyghur Congress filed a formal petition urging a regional WRO on all cotton-made goods linked to the Uyghur Region. UK-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), along with the World Uyghur Congress, filed a companion petition with CBP based on a similar complaint filed with UK authorities earlier this year alleging widespread prison labour. UK law also prohibits the import of prison labour-made goods.

The Coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labour is seeking the following commitments from brands and retailers:

  • Stop sourcing cotton, yarn, textiles, and finished products from the Uyghur Region. 
  • Cut ties with companies implicated in forced labour – those that have operations in the Uyghur region and have accepted government subsidies and/or government-supplied labour at these operations
  • Prohibit any supplier factories located outside of the Uyghur Region from using workers supplied through the Chinese government’s forced labour transfer program targeting Uyghur and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples.
  • Note: Taking the actions listed above does not preclude brands from sourcing clothing from elsewhere in China, as long as cotton or yarn from the Uyghur Region is not used to make the clothing and as long as suppliers are not using forced Uyghur and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples labour.

Media Contact: Chloe Chik, chloe@pythiapublic.com