“Uyghurs for sale”… that was the chilling title of this ground-breaking report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) last week.

You may remember us talking about the exploitation of the Uyghur people last year. In July, Four Corners reported on the use of forced labour involving the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region of China – a region known for being a major supplier of cotton for popular Australian brands. As part of the Communist Party’s persecution of the Uyghur minority group, up to 1 million individuals were reportedly being forced to work in factories in exploitative circumstances, after being rounded up and incarcerated by the Chinese regime.

The exploitation of the Uyghur people has made headlines again this month, with latest research from the ASPI suggesting more than 80,000 Uyghurs have been mass transferred from “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang region to work under forced labour conditions in factories across the country.

Factories that several popular international brands source from

Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, GAP, H&M, Lacoste, Nike, Puma, PVH (Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger), Ralph Lauren, Uniqlo, VF Corp, L Brands (Victoria’s Secret), and Inditex (Zara) are amongst the fashion brands listed as sourcing labour from the factories that the Uyghur people have reportedly been transferred to.

Baptist World Aid Australia’s response

This is deeply disturbing. It is a confronting reminder of the insidious use of forced labour in the global garment supply chain, and a reminder of our connection to the people who make our clothes.

All the implicated brands are popular with consumers in Australia. And they are all brands which are graded by the Ethical Fashion Report.

We believe that the ability to uncover and remediate instances of forced labour (or other forms of exploitation) is a mark of an effective labour rights management system. And so, following these latest reports, we reached out those 13 brands, to find out how they intended to investigate these allegations further, and remediate where necessary.

Of the 13 companies that we reached out to, eight have responded (as of March 13)

Here is a summary of what we received.

Adidas has investigated the suppliers listed in the report and found that they are not part of its “approved” supply chain. Adidas does not currently have any orders from these suppliers.

Inditex (Zara) is engaging in thorough due diligence across its supply chain in China through the brand’s internal teams, and expert external partners.

L Brands (Victoria’s Secret) has stated that its suppliers have certified that they have received, read, and understood their policy against forced labour. In 2019, L Brands had the implicated supplier audited by third party inspector Elevate, who found that their conduct complied with labour standards.

PVH (Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger) has a code of conduct against forced labour and stated that it has been assured by their suppliers that no violations exist.

H&M has a due diligence process in place that aims to identify and address any risks. H&M is in close dialogue with human rights experts, other brands, and stakeholders, to evaluate how it can further strengthen its due diligence.

Lacoste stated that it had performed an audit on one of the factories listed in 2019 which found no evidence of forced labour practices, however Lacoste said it would be further investigating this situation and requesting more information from the company in charge of that audit. The other three factories that were listed as part of Lacoste’s supply chains have already, or will be, thoroughly investigated and audited, and the brand has requested proof from its suppliers that no forced labor has occurred in the factory.

PUMA acknowledged that even though it has no direct relationship with the yarn company implicated, some of its fabric suppliers buy yarn from the company, and, so, they will investigate further. Puma told us that it monitors its tier one and two suppliers, but not the lower levels of its supply chain. Puma stated that it has no direct or indirect relationships with the other two factories listed.

UNIQLO denied having business with the two factories listed against it in the report.

(See the full-text responses here)

As you can see, the responses were varied. A number of brands denied any involvement with these factories, some are exclusively placing their confidence in their codes of conduct, or the assurances of their Chinese suppliers, and only a few brands explicitly mentioned further investigations and auditing. No brand made any statements about potential remediation for those workers.

Baptist World Aid will continue monitoring this situation and the responses of brands as they contribute to the 2020 Ethical Fashion Report. The Ethical Fashion Report grading tool assesses brands on the processes they have in place to prevent, investigate, and remediate forced labour within their supply chain. As such, our ethical research team will work closely with these brands over the coming months to gain a clearer picture of what these processes look like, and their effectiveness.

For now, please join us in sharing the plight of the Uyghur people with your communities, and praying for justice.