UK: HALT FORCED PRISON
LABOUR GOODs FROM China
Short explainer video from World Uyghur Congress on mass incarceration of Uyghurs.
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.
Rahima Mahmut, the UK project director for the World Uyghur Congress and a UK resident, said: “Living in a free country which upholds respect for human rights, it hurts so much to know that the products that are used in this country are the fruit of the enslavement of my people. I have full confidence that the British government will make the right decision in line with its legal framework which champions the highest standards of human dignity.”
Dearbhla Minogue, a legal officer with GLAN and a consultant solicitor with Bindmans LLP, said: "The Chinese government is systematically imposing the misery of forced labour on the Uyghur people. This conduct must not be rewarded with unconditional trade - cotton products made under such conditions must no longer be allowed to enter the United Kingdom."
“China's abuses in the XUAR are shocking and raise many urgent questions, including that of liability for crimes against humanity, but also including the problem of apparently widespread use of forced labour in facilities holding people against their will. Other governments, including the UK government, have criticised the Chinese government, and this is important. But they must also avoid complicity in abuses by allowing goods using forced labour to be imported. GLAN argues that the UK government has a legal responsibility to address this end the problem”, said Dr Eva Pils, Legal Advisor to GLAN and Professor of Law at The Dickson Poon School of Law at King's College London.