Ban US cotton imports from Xinjiang, say human rights campaigners

Ban US cotton imports from Xinjiang, say human rights campaigners

Petitions issued to US authorities cite ‘integral role of forced labour’ involving Uighur Muslims and other minority groups

Human rights campaigners are calling on US authorities to ban all imports of cotton from the Chinese province of Xinjiang after allegations of widespread forced labour.

Two identical petitions, delivered today to US Custom and Border Protection, cite “substantial evidence” that the Uighur community and other minority groups are being press-ganged into working in the region’s cotton fields.

The petitions note the “integral role of forced labour” in China’s penal and economic system, which campaigners state has given rise to a “cotton gulag” in Xinjiang.‘Virtually entire’ fashion industry complicit in Uighur forced labour, say rights groupsRead more

China is the largest cotton producer in the world, with 84% of its cotton coming from Xinjiang, located in the north-west of the country. According to Chinese government data cited in the petitions, apparel exports from this disputed region were valued at $4.2bn (£3.1bn) in 2018. Footwear and textiles represent an additional $3.06bn.

Rahima Mahmut, a spokeswoman for the World Uighur Congress, one of the campaign groups spearheading the petitions, is hopeful that the economic impacts of a ban could cause Beijing to rethink its prison labour policy.

“This is a very small measure compared to the terrible abuse that is happening to the Uighur people in East Turkistan [now known as Xinjiang] … but hopefully it will hurt China economically and encourage them to stop,” she says.

Since 2017, more than a million Uighur Muslims have been moved to high-security “de-extremification” camps, where they are forced to produce industrial and agricultural goods for export, campaign groups maintain.

“So many international brands rely on cotton from this region that it would be a massive problem for China were the US to enforce a ban,” says Dearbhla Minogue, legal officer for the Global Legal Action Network (Glan), co-sponsor of one of the petitions.