Amazon, Nike, and Apple Must Investigate China's Use of Uighur Muslims as Forced Labor, U.S. Religious Freedom Watchdog Says

A U.S. religious freedom watchdog is calling on Amazon, Nike and Apple to investigate claims that China has used Uighur Muslims as forced labor as part of their supply chains.

Officials from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a federal group established by Congress, said in a statement today it is "unacceptable" for the nation to import any products that are suspected of having been made with the use of exploitative practices.

The USCIRF was reacting to a report about alleged abuses in China released earlier this month by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think tank.

Analysis suggested more than 80,000 Uighur Muslims were transferred out of Xinjiang to factories across China between 2017 and 2019, some from detention camps.

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The research named "83 well-known global brands" in the technology, clothing and motoring sectors as having potentially benefitted "directly or indirectly" from forced labor, including Apple, BMW, Nike, Volkswagen and Adidas.

The report—titled "Uyghurs for Sale"—added to what is publicly known about the Chinese government's alleged network of so-called "re-education camps" located across the Xinjiang region.

The BBC reported in November last year that China is believed to have detained about a million people, largely from the Uighur community, without trial until they adhere to Communist Party ideals. The Chinese government has previously maintained that any such camps are voluntary.

But human rights watchdog Freedom House said in a report this month that cases of "torture, forced abortions, sexual abuse, and deaths" inside detention camps had been recorded in 2019.

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The ASPI think tank's report revealed: "New evidence indicates that 'graduating' detainees from Xinjiang's 're-education camps' have been sent directly to factories to work in other parts of China. In such circumstances, it is unlikely that their work arrangements are voluntary."

In response, the USCIRF said it welcomed fresh legal proposals in the U.S.—H.R.6210 and S.3471that would seek to ban the importation to the United States of some goods made in Xinjiang.

"The Chinese government has compounded its mistreatment of Uighur and other Muslims by forcing them to work in factories," said USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer.

"We urge all American companies, including Amazon, Nike, Apple, and Calvin Klein, to conduct a thorough investigation of their supply chains in China and cease any operations if they cannot definitively rule out the use of forced labor," Bauer continued in a media release today.

"We want to commend Representative Jim McGovern and Senator Marco Rubio for their bipartisan leadership on this important issue," said USCIRF commissioner Tenzin Dorjee, referencing the two politicians who introduced the proposals to the House and Senate earlier this week.

"We urge Congress to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act swiftly. It is unacceptable for the United States to import any products made with forced labor," he added.

Amazon, Nike, Apple and Calvin Klein have been contacted for comment by Newsweek.

Last week, an Apple spokesperson said the company is "dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve" before added: "We have not seen this report but we work closely with all our suppliers to ensure our high standards are upheld."

Nike says it is conducting "diligence with our suppliers in China to identify and assess potential risks related to employment of people from XUAR."

In a statement online, it said: "Since last year, Taekwang's Qingdao facility has not recruited new employees from XUAR and is currently seeking expert advice on the best and most responsible approach to conclude the employment of remaining employees from XUAR.

"Taekwang has confirmed that their employees from XUAR have the ability to end their contracts at any time without repercussion, and historically many have chosen to do so."

A Volkswagen spokesperson told The Washington Post after the report's release: "None of the mentioned supplier companies are currently a direct supplier of Volkswagen."

Adidas, which was also named in the report, said: "Workplace standards strictly prohibit all forms of forced and prison labor and apply to all companies across our supply chain."

"After the initial allegations were made in spring 2019, we immediately and explicitly instructed our suppliers not to source any products or yarn from the Xinjiang region. The use of forced labor by any of our partners will result in the termination of the partnership," the company statement added.

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The Apple logo is seen through a fence in front of an Apple Store on July 10, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty
Amazon, Nike, and Apple Must Investigate China's Use of Uighur Muslims as Forced Labor, U.S. Religious Freedom Watchdog Says | News