Uyghur group wins appeal to probe alleged Uyghur slave labor

The court ordered UK authorities to reconsider investigating cotton imports from Xinjiang.
By Jilil Kashgary for RFA Uyghur
2024.07.02
Uyghur group wins appeal to probe alleged Uyghur slave labor A worker walks behind a tractor during the planting of a cotton field, as seen on a government organized trip for foreign journalists, near Urumqi in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, April 21, 2021.
Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Reversing a previous ruling, an appeals court in the United Kingdom ordered that the country’s National Crime Agency reconsider whether to investigate whether cotton imports from the far-western Chinese region of Xinjiang allegedly use Uyghur slave labor.

Global Legal Action Network, or GLAN, and the World Uyghur Congress, or WUC, won the case in the U.K. Court of Appeal on June 27. 

The groups took legal action after a High Court ruling in January 2023 accepted British authorities’ position that it refused to exercise its powers to investigate whether the imports used slave labor and were therefore illegal.

It is unclear what conclusion the National Crime Agency, or NCA, will reach. But the two groups hope it will lead to commitment from the agency to stop goods made with forced labor from entering British markets.

The ruling is an example of how countries are cracking down on trade with China amid concerns about Uyghur forced labor, part of a series of human rights abuses that have taken place in the region in recent years.

An image posted to the Global Legal Action Network’s Facebook page on May 15, 2024, with the caption: 'We're in court representing World Uyghur Congress at the Court of Appeal to ensure that no one in the UK profits from forced labor cotton produced alongside the brutal oppression of the Uyghur people.' (GLAN via Facebook)
An image posted to the Global Legal Action Network’s Facebook page on May 15, 2024, with the caption: 'We're in court representing World Uyghur Congress at the Court of Appeal to ensure that no one in the UK profits from forced labor cotton produced alongside the brutal oppression of the Uyghur people.' (GLAN via Facebook)

It is also significant because it serves as a warning to companies with products made with forced labor in their supply chains that they risk being prosecuted for money laundering or having their criminal products confiscated, according to the two groups.

The High Court’s ruling created “an untenable situation” based on “adequate consideration” whereby importers were permitted to knowingly acquire forced labor goods, and would not be prosecuted provided they had paid market price, WUC and GLAN, a nonprofit group that pursues legal action involving human rights violations, said in a statement.

“It makes it very clear that these companies must clean up their supply chains or risk prosecution or having their goods confiscated as the proceeds of crime,” GLAN lawyer Leanna Burnard told Radio Free Asia.

Most Chinese cotton sold by retailers in the United Kingdom is implicated in forced labor, according to GLAN and WUC.

“This is the very first successful step towards accountability for Uyghurs,” WUC president Dolkun Isa said in a statement.

“We hope that moving forward, U.K.-based companies will take adequate caution not trading or importing Uyghur forced labor goods, and that the government will also conduct investigations diligently,” he said.

Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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