22-24 Royal Courts of Justice.jfif

October 2022 UK court hearing: fighting to end the import of forced labour cotton 

 
The 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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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.