UK & US: HALT FORCED PRISON
LABOUR GOODs FROM China
Permission granted in first of kind legal challenge tackling importation of forced labour goods from China into UK (15 December 2021)
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC), with the support of GLAN has been granted permission by the High Court of England and Wales to proceed with a landmark challenge against UK authorities for permitting the importation of cotton goods produced with forced labour in China. Such goods freely enter the UK despite well documented and widespread use of forced labour involving Uyghur people in China’s cotton industry. If successful, the Court will declare the authorities’ approach unlawful and will likely set a world-first precedent by confirming that it is not permissible under the Proceeds of Crime Act for companies to purchase the proceeds of atrocity crimes. The case also raises novel arguments that a 19th century law prohibiting the importation of prison-made goods is being violated, and will be the first time this law has ever been tested in the English courts. Click here for our Press Release.
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Authoritative legal opinion concludes that treatment of Uyghurs amounts to crimes against humanity and genocide (8 February 2021)
GLAN in partnership with the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), has obtained an authoritative legal opinion on the treatment of Uyghurs by Chinese authorities. In what is the first legal opinion published by barristers pursuant to formal instructions, leading lawyers at Essex Court Chambers (London), led by Alison McDonald QC, conclude that the available evidence credibly establishes that crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide have been committed. READ MORE & ACCESS OPINION.
Since 2017, the Chinese government has operated a vast detention and indoctrination scheme targeting ethnic Uyghur muslims. Children of detainees are frequently sent to orphanages or education facilities leading to accusations of cultural erasure.
Uyghurs now work under coercive conditions at factories that supply some of the world's biggest brands. These sites are intimately linked with the region’s cotton processing industry, which accounts for 84% of the cotton produced by China.
GLAN and the World Uyghur Congress submitted a 60 page document containing extensive evidence on Uyghur prison labour to the UK’s customs authorities during April 2020. We also submitted a formal petition to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) during August 2020. In both cases we requested the suspension of cotton goods imports produced with forced labour in China. In November 2021 we initiated judicial review proceeds against decision of UK authorities not to halt imports.
Uyghurs (or Uighurs, Uygurs) are ethnically and culturally a Turkic people living in the areas of Central Asia referred to as Xinjiang by China and the international community, but referred to by Uyghurs as East Turkistan – their historical homeland.
Since 2017, the Chinese government has been operating a vast detention and "de-extremification" scheme, focused on eliminating Uyghur life and culture. The Chinese government says that these detentions are no more than voluntary internships aimed at poverty alleviation and de-radicalisation, but extraordinary documents leaked in late 2019 showed the extent to which these detentions are coercive and highly secretive. Detention centre operators are urged to “prevent escapes”, ensure “full video surveillance coverage of dormitories and classrooms free of blind spots, ensuring that guards on duty can monitor in real time,” in addition to calling for “strict secrecy.”
Further reporting by the Wall Street Journal and others exposed that in addition to being detained, Uyghurs are being forced to work in factories in the region - which export products - particularly textiles - to international markets, including the UK.
"Tell the World: Exposing how China is creating the world’s largest prison", an in-depth documentary about how the Uyghur population is being systematically rounded up and detained, with estimates of as many as a million citizens being held in re-education camps.
The Chinese authorities have systematically detained over one million Uyghur muslims since 2017 using a network of high-security indoctrination and prison camps. The mass incarceration of Uyghurs is the latest instalment in Xinjiang’s history of forced prison labour – its “regular” prisons, which contain up to 800,000 Han Chinese and ethnic minority inmates, have long been home to conglomerate prison enterprises. The evidence file details allegations that not only is prison and forced labour widespread and systematic in East Turkistan (Xinjiang), it is intimately linked with the region’s cotton industry, which accounts for 84% of the cotton produced by China.
China’s mass detention of an ethnic group appears to be on a scale not seen since WWII, and the letter also raises the possibility that this mass incarceration and extraction of forced labour could amount to crimes against humanity. The UK government has already publicly expressed its concern over what it terms “China’s systematic human rights violations in Xinjiang” and has raised the issue of human rights violations in Xinjiang directly with the Chinese Government. At the same time China is the UK’s largest trade partner after Europe and the US, with trade between the two countries more than doubling over the last decade to reach £70bn in the last financial year.
On 23 April 2020 GLAN and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) submitted extensive evidence to the UK’s revenue and customs authority (HMRC) requesting the suspension of imports of cotton goods produced with forced labour in China.
The submission cites numerous sources demonstrating the widespread use of forced labour involving China’s Uyghur people in its cotton industry and names a number of companies who have recently sourced cotton in East Turkistan (Xinjiang) including Muji, Uniqlo, Ikea and H&M. We argue that current imports involve forced labour on such a scale that they violate UK principles prohibiting the importation of prison-made goods, and should be halted by the UK’s customs authorities.
The UK’s Foreign Prison-Made Goods Act 1897 prohibits the importation of goods produced in foreign prisons, and it is also suggested that the importation of the cotton might put the authorities at risk of falling foul of criminal legislation, notably the Proceeds of Crime Act and the Serious Crime Act.
On 28 August 2020, GLAN and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) submitted a legal petition to the United States’ Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requesting a halt to the importation of cotton and cotton-made goods produced with forced and prison labour in East Turkistan (Xinjiang).
The petition and annexed evidence catalogues numerous sources demonstrating the widespread use of forced and prison labour involving Xinjiang’s persecuted Uyghur people in its cotton industry and names a number of major brands that openly source cotton in Xinjiang, including Muji and Uniqlo. GLAN and WUC argue that current imports into the US involve forced and prison labour on a large scale and violate Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which prohibits the importation of prison and forced labor produced goods into the US.
The petition requests that CBP prohibit the importation of cotton and cotton-made goods from Xinjiang into the United States in a two phased manner. First, the petitioners request CBP to immediately issue a Withhold Release Order (WRO) against all cotton-made goods from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), as well as against goods produced by companies outside the XUAR that have subsidiaries or operations in the XUAR. Importers with suppliers outside of XUAR that source cotton inputs from XUAR should be given a period of 6 months from the date of the petition to shift all cotton sourcing to suppliers outside XUAR that do not use forced Uyghur labour. If this is not accomplished within 6 months, the petitioners request CBP to issue another WRO prohibiting cotton-made goods from such suppliers.
Rahima Mahmut, the UK project director for the World Uyghur Congress and a UK resident, said: “It is painful knowing that all of these products sold in both the US and the UK are produced by my people, under terrible conditions of forced labor. As Uyghurs we want the US government take action to stop the importation of such products to ensure that companies profiting off of these human rights abuses move their supply chains away from China.”
“The Chinese government is systematically forcing huge numbers of people into forced labour. Both the UK and the US governments have made statements condemning these human rights abuses. It’s time that they now also take steps to block these imports and enforce their laws,” said Dearbhla Minogue, a legal officer with GLAN. “This petition is another example of increased international collaboration between organisations who are horrified by the crimes taking place in Xinjiang. China will one day have to accept that the international community will not stand for its abuses.”