Trade Unions, CSOs Urge Government Action on Forced Labour of Uyghurs, After Failure of UN Human Rights Council Resolution
October 17, 2022
Governments, multilateral organisations, and corporations should take urgent action to press the government of China to end abuses against Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (Uyghur Region), the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region said. The Coalition’s call comes after the failure of the UN Human Rights Council to hold a debate on the human rights situation in the Uyghur Region amidst systematic abuses, including state-imposed forced labour, constituting crimes against humanity.
“Although we’re disappointed at the result of the vote, the UN has already recognized that Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples are subject to forced and coerced labour on a massive scale. We are encouraged that UN experts and agencies continue to voice their concerns, and we will continue to pursue accountability,” said Elfidar Iltebir, President of the Uyghur American Association.
The draft resolution for a debate was prompted by a recent report by the former High Commissioner for Human Rights, which found that “the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples, within the context of other restrictions and deprivation, “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” The report reinforced a mounting stream of evidence and calls for action by the ILO’s supervisory bodies, over 40 UN experts, and over 300 Non-Governmental Organisations. Yet the member states of the Council – the UN’s main human rights body – rejected even a discussion of these findings, voting 19 against, 17 in favour, and 11 abstentions.
Notwithstanding the result of the vote, the Coalition continues to urge the UN, governments, multilateral institutions, and global corporations to take urgent policy action to pressure the government of China to end forced labour and other abuses and to ensure corporations do not use or profit from forced labour.
For governments, this should include adopting and enacting import control legislation banning imports of goods through forced labour; imposing visa bans, travel bans, and targeted individual sanctions; and adopting or enacting legislation banning imports of goods produced through forced labour. World leaders should continue to press Chinese authorities to bring about the end of the systematic forced labour of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples and refuse to accept their denial of the abuses taking place in the Uyghur Region.
Businesses must urgently exit the Uyghur Region at every level of their supply chains, to prevent the use of forced labour of Uyghurs and other groups, and to end relationships with suppliers supporting the forced labour system.
The ILO should continue to press the government of China to comply with all relevant ratified conventions, including Conventions 111 and 122, already the subject of ILO observations and conclusions, as well as the two forced labour conventions, Conventions 29 and 105, which China just ratified (and which enter into force in August 2023).
The newly appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, must keep pressure on the Chinese government to make clear the UN’s commitment to ending the abuses against the Uyghur people in China. His office should prioritise and uphold meaningful engagement with civil society, human rights defenders, and victims of violations, to fulfill his role as the world’s leading human rights advocate.
“Despite the vote, the government of China continues to make use of forced labour in the region – this has not changed. Likewise, our unwavering commitment to ensure this practice is put to an end, along with other atrocities against Uyghurs, has not changed. We will continue to urge governments and the business community to end their complicity in these crimes,” said Omer Kanat, Executive Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project.
Advocacy at the recent Council session has successfully increased overdue government and Council attention, media scrutiny, and public awareness for Uyghur human rights, providing Uyghur activists a needed global platform on which to share their demands. The disappointing results of this vote must fuel further attempts to hold the Chinese government accountable on the international stage – and to protect the legitimacy and credibility of the Council itself.
After years of inaction on abuses in the Uyghur Region, it has never been more urgent for governments, multilateral organisations, global corporations, and civil society to act to end crimes against humanity, including forced labour.