UK government sued over forced-labor imports from Xinjiang

Rights groups say Britain has failed to live up to its obligations under international law.
By Alim Seytoff
2022.10.19
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Workers unload bales of cotton picked in China's Xinjiang region at a railway station in central China's Jiangxi province, March 26, 2021.
AFP

Britain’s government will appear in court at the end of October to answer charges it has failed to block products made with forced labor in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang from entering the UK, rights groups said in a statement Wednesday.

The Oct. 25-26 hearing in Britain’s High Court follows a suit brought by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) — a rights watchdog with offices in the UK and  Ireland — and the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), both groups said in a joint statement.

”Customs authorities are failing to live up to their obligations under international law to stop imports of products made in conditions so appalling and coercive they amount to crimes against humanity,” GLAN Legal Officer Siobhan Allen said on Oct. 19.

“The time has long [passed] for burying their heads in the sand: the evidence of what is happening in the Uyghur Region is so overwhelming, authorities must take action — now,” Allen added.

Forced labor in Xinjiang has been tied to the region’s cotton industry, China’s largest, which exports textiles and other products to international markets, including in the UK, GLAN and WUC said in their statement.

“For too long, the UK government has allowed the products of Uyghur forced labor to enter British markets,” said WUC UK Director Rahima Mahmut, speaking to RFA. “It is shameful that cotton picked using the modern slavery of my people, within a context of atrocity and genocide, continues to flood this country’s supply chains.

“The Government could take leadership and ban the products of Uyghur forced labor from entering Britain. Instead they have refused to implement legislation to tackle the crisis,” Mahmut added.

“This hearing is a historic opportunity for us to secure accountability on the UK government’s inaction, and to strengthen our calls for change.”

As many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and members of other Muslim ethnic groups are believed to have been held by China since 2017 in a network of internment camps where inmates have been subjected to forced labor, torture, and the rape and forced sterilization of female detainees.

China has described the camps as vocational training centers set up to prevent “religious extremism” and “terrorism” in the restive Xinjiang region, and says that the facilities are now closed.

The United States and nine Western parliaments have declared that the repression of predominantly Muslim groups in Xinjiang amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Written in English by Richard Finney.

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