The Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is urging the UK government to halt imports of products made with cotton produced through means of forced labour in China.
GLAN and WUC say they have submitted extensive evidence to the UK revenue and customs authorities (HMRC) which details the widespread use of forced labour involving China’s Uyghur people in its cotton industry.
Their evidence cites a number of sources from press reports to leaked documents on detention centres.
They named H&M, IKEA, Uniqlo and Muji among companies selling merchandise made with cotton from Xinjiang where the United Nations estimates at least a million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in massive camps.
H&M and IKEA said the organisation through which their suppliers source cotton had recently announced it would no longer be approving cotton from Xinjiang.
Uniqlo and Muji, which has touted the Xinjiang origin of its cotton as a selling point on its website, did not respond to requests for comment.
“These supply chains and the import of this cotton must be halted,” said Gearoid O Cuinn, director of GLAN, a network of lawyers, academics and investigative journalists.
“Its production is reliant on the largest systematic incarceration of an ethnic group since the Holocaust,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The two groups urged Britain to carry out an investigation and suspend imports made with cotton from the region unless companies could prove they were not produced with forced labour. Customs should also consider seizing imports already in the country, they said.
China, which says the camps are designed to stamp out terrorism and provide vocational skills, has denied using Uighurs for forced labour. The Chinese embassy in London did not immediately respond to the allegations in the letter.
More than 80% of China’s cotton comes from Xinjiang, a large region in the northwest, which is home to about eleven million Uighurs.
In its letter to Britain’s HMRC customs authority, GLAN and the Uighur rights group said imports of cotton sourced in Xinjiang violated British laws, including legislation prohibiting the importation of prison-made goods.
They outlined evidence they said demonstrated China’s widespread use of forced labour by Uighurs in its cotton industry – both in processing raw cotton and in turning it into clothing and other goods.
A spokesman for Britain’s foreign office said all businesses with parts of their supply chains in Xinjiang should conduct due diligence to ensure they do not support human rights abuses.
GLAN said it would consider legal action if the British government did not act.
In the United States, lawmakers have proposed legislation aimed at preventing the importation of goods made using forced labour in Xinjiang. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)