Authoritarian Tech

Investors pressured to cut ties to Xinjiang

Campaign groups are calling for individuals and corporations to ensure that the brands they support have no links to Beijing’s ongoing abuses of Uyghur human rights

Investors are being urged to pull their money out of companies that have links with China’s ongoing campaign of detention and forced labor in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. 

Last week, the Investor Alliance for Human Rights, a nonprofit that encourages responsible business practices, published a report advising investors to make sure they have no companies in their portfolios with links to Xinjiang. As many as a million Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities are thought to be held in detention camps in the region, and a large-scale forced labor program is also being enforced. 

“Investors will need to determine whether identified potential or actual harms can be ceased, prevented, or mitigated. Otherwise, steps need to be taken to end business relationships responsibly,” said the Investor Alliance in a recent statement

During the pandemic, China has used forced labor to manufacture personal protective equipment, shipping Uyghur workers in “batches” of hundreds to factories across Xinjiang and eastern China. 

In June, a Coda Story investigation examined dozens of videos emerging on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, showing large numbers of Uyghurs being transported as part of a labor scheme that Beijing refers to as a “poverty alleviation” initiative. 

The investigation followed a March report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, titled Uyghurs for Sale, which found that the initiative amounted to forced labor and formed an extension of Xinjiang’s detention program. The ASPI report established links between the labor programs and more than 80 international brands.

In July, a group of 190 human rights organizations around the world formed the Coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labor, calling upon more than 30 companies, including Adidas, Ikea and Ralph Lauren, to cut all business ties with Xinjiang and the labor transfer program. 

“Now is the time for real action from brands, governments and international bodies – not empty declarations,” said Jasmine O’Connor, CEO of Anti-Slavery International, in a statement. 

The textile industry is being called upon to examine supply chains for any links with Xinjiang, which produces more than a fifth of the world’s cotton. The Better Cotton Initiative, a nonprofit promoting better farming practices, represents more than 1,800 members, including major brands such as H&M, Levi Strauss & Co and Gap. Operating in 21 countries, it accounts for 22% of global cotton production. Following the ASPI report examining forced labor practices in Xinjiang, the body withdrew its assurances for cotton sourced from the region.  

“Companies are now finally on the record saying they have zero tolerance for forced labor as their response to the Uyghur crisis, but are still saying how difficult it is to disentangle their supply chains from the horrors in the Uyghur region,” said Louisa Greve, director of global advocacy for the Washington D.C.-based Uyghur Human Rights Project. 

She said that businesses have a responsibility to examine all aspects of their supply chains for links to Xinjiang, right down to raw materials.

“All have to be off limits, if you care at all about freedom and your own ethical supplier codes, and your core identity as a brand.”

Photo by Chien-min Chung/Getty Images, Turpan, Xinjiang, 2005

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Isobel Cockerell

Isobel Cockerell is a reporter with Coda Story. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she has also reported for WIRED, USA Today, Rappler, The Daily Beast, the Huffington Post and others.

Get in touch via [email protected] Follow @isocockerell