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LEGAL APPEAL LAUNCHED: fighting to end the import of forced labour cotton 

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The Case

We are taking UK authorities back to court to challenge disturbing judgment

The appeal hearing will take place on 15th of May. The Court of Appeal granted us permission to challenge the High Courts’ judgment ruling in favour of the UK custom authorities, rejecting our claim that they are guilty of failing to investigate whether cotton imports are the product of forced Uyghur labour.

This appeal is a challenge GLAN and claimants, World Uyghur Congress (WUC), are bringing against a judgment handed down by the High Court on 20th January 2023. The Court accepted the UK authorities’ position that it refuses to exercise its powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2022 to combat the importation of cotton produced by enslaved Uyghurs in East Turkestan (Xinjiang). In particular, the High Court’s ruling on so-called ‘adequate consideration’ created an untenable situation whereby importers are permitted to knowingly acquire forced labour goods that are the product of atrocity crimes, and will not be prosecuted provided they have paid market price.

 

The Judge, and government, agreed that Uyghur people are facing serious human rights abuses including enslavement and forced labour but the current judgment does nothing to deter free trade in forced labour goods. If this judgment is not overturned, the UK is set to become a safe haven for traders of all forced labour goods. We are pleased that the Court of Appeal has recognised the seriousness of the issue and look forward to having the opportunity to argue for this judgment to be overturned. 

WUC’s legal representatives are Siobhan Allen, Dearbhla Minogue and Charlotte Andrews-Briscoe of GLAN and Bindmans LLP; Salima Budhani of Bindmans LLP; Jonathan Fisher KC, Tom Forster KC and Anita Clifford of Red Lion Chambers; and Russell Hopkins of Temple Garden Chambers.

Update 14/3/23: Appeal launched challenging decision permitting trade in forced labour goods.

On 20 January 2023, judgment was handed down our case against the UK government. Sadly, the court ruled in favour of the authorities, who have the power to investigate imports of goods produced with Uyghur forced labour but refuse to exercise it. We released a statement our disappointment that the Court accepted the UK government’s position on so-called ‘adequate consideration’. This creates a remarkable situation where so long as importers pay market price for forced labour goods, they cannot be prosecuted for acquiring them, even if they know those goods are the product of atrocity crimes. The government’s position makes the UK an international outlier and a safe haven for importers of goods produced as a result of crimes against humanity, and genocide. On March 14th 2023  we filed an application for permission to appeal this judgment.

Follow this case

We took UK authorities to court to end the trade in forced-labour cotton. 

An unprecedented hearing took place on 25th and 26th October in the High Court (London). GLAN and World Uyghur Congress (WUC) took the British government to court to challenge their failure to tackle imports of Uyghur forced-labour cotton into the UK. This was the first time that Uyghur representatives set foot in a foreign courtroom on this issue.

 

The case stands to rewrite the relationship between the UK high street and forced labour goods. It emerged in the course of proceedings that the British government agrees in principle that the Proceeds of Crime Act applies to companies importing cotton from Xinjiang. This is a significant development in itself. 

We hope to hear the outcome of this historic hearing in the coming months.

The arguments

The case challenges the failure of HMRC, the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the National Crime Agency to investigate breaches of the Foreign Prison Made Goods Act 1897 and the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002.

 

  • The POCA argument is that the cotton in question is “criminal property” because it is obtained as the result of the crimes of forced labour and crimes against humanity. Therefore, any UK person who knowingly (or with suspicion) acquires it is committing a money laundering offence. 

  • The case raises novel arguments that a 19th century law prohibiting the importation of prison-made goods is being violated. 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. This is the first time this law has ever been tested in the English courts. 

 

The hearing comes days after GLAN and WUC made a submission to Irish authorities demanding a halt to the import of Uyghur forced labour goods as required under international and EU law.

 

 

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Resources

Claimant:

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Legal Case

Timeline

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 cited 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 had recently sourced cotton in Xinjiang, including Muji, Uniqlo, and Ikea.

January 2021: The United States government announced an import ban on all cotton products from the Uyghur Region on the basis of the prevalence of forced labour in the region. They later passed the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act which establishes a presumption that all goods produced in whole or in part in this region were produced using forced labour and thus their importation is prohibited.

February 2021: GLAN, World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) obtained an authoritative legal opinion on the treatment of Uyghurs by Chinese authorities. In this world first legal opinion, leading lawyers at Essex Court Chambers (London), led by Alison McDonald QC, concluded that the available evidence credibly establishes that crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide have been committed.

November 2021: We initiated judicial review proceeds against decision of UK authorities not to halt imports.

October 2022: Two day hearing at High Court in the Royal Courts of Justice, London. 

January 2023: High Court hands down judgment.

May 2023: Court of Appeal grants permission to challenge the High Courts’ judgment.

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