Firms sourcing from China warned of human rights risks

11 September 2019

Alleged human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region are leaking into wider supply chains and threatening to embroil companies which source from anywhere in China in controversy, a consultancy has warned.

Verisk Maplecroft said goods wholly or partially made in forced labour camps in Xinjiang autonomous region are finding their way into supply chains throughout China and even outside the country.

This means that companies which source from China might find themselves accused of harbouring human rights abuses in their supply chain even though they were unaware of any connection with China’s controversial region.

Xinjiang has seen ethnic conflict for decades, but since there were riots in 2009 Beijing has cracked down and this has led to young Uighurs being interned in custom-built camps because of government fears they may become involved in the conflict.

While Beijing says these detainees are being given vocational training meant to help students integrate into Chinese society and improve their economic wellbeing, others have claimed the camps are associated with labour violations.

Investigations by German academic Adrian Zenz have been at the forefront of claims that widespread labour rights abuses are taking place at Chinese internment camps.

Ryan Aherin, senior commodities analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, researched reports in Chinese language media that contained statements from government officials about the types of “vocational training” detainees are receiving in the camps.

He found that many of the re-education camps provide training in apparel and footwear manufacturing, food processing and electronics manufacturing.

“It is likely that if components for these sectors are being made by detainees, the government will do its best to make them untraceable to other supply chains,” he said.

Clothing brands have already found themselves accused of sourcing cotton from factories in the region, which has been said to resemble “one massive internment camp” by a UN human rights panel.

In December SM reported that clothing manufactured by forced labour in a Chinese internment camp had been traced to a US sportswear brand Badger Sports.

An Associated Press investigation said that privately-owned supplier Hetian Taida had a cluster of workshops within the compound walls of a Chinese internment camp.

Badger Sports initially suspended orders and then dropped Hetian Taida as a supplier after its own investigation.

Aherin warned firms that the Chinese government’s claims that internment centres are training workers will not the reputation of brands that are found to be associated with widespread labour violations.

“Supply chains of apparel brands have already been linked to labour rights abuses, but there is evidence to suggest these violations could move beyond the sector and even China’s borders, as raw materials produced in Xinjiang are being used in manufacturing in other countries,” he said.

He said standard due diligence practices are unlikely to be effective in preventing links to violations in the manufacturing of goods in Xinjiang.

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