G7 Condemns Human Rights Violations Against the Uyghurs in China

By Matt Heller
Jun 15 2021 |
G7 leaders condemned China’s treatment of the Uyghur people in a statement released over the weekend. Photo via @WhiteHouse on Twitter

A statement from leaders of the world’s largest economies refocuses attention on the atrocities in Xinjiang, and the Western companies profiting off of them.

This past weekend, the leaders of the G7— the U.S, U.K, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, and European Union — denounced the ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs by the Chinese government in Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

Their statement read, “we will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang.”

This is a big deal, because it’s the first time that the G7 has come together to speak specifically against the atrocities in Xinjiang. China, no surprise, was displeased.

And it’s a long time coming. The persecution against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups in China has been ongoing since 2017, with over 1 million people being placed into internment camps and made subject to forced labor, torture, ethnic cleansing, and numerous other violations of human rights. Many scholars, human rights organizations, and political leaders have labeled these actions against the Uyghur people to be a genocide — including the U.S. government, earlier this year.

Condemnation of China’s conduct in Xinjiang is bipartisan. Republicans and Democrats of all stripes have spoken out to condemn China’s treatment of the Uyghur people. It’s worth noting that the Trump administration originally designated the treatment of the Uyghurs a genocide, and the Biden administration upheld that designation.

But there’s also increased criticism of any private company who continues to to profit from the treatment of the Uyghurs.

Many Western brands continue to operate in Xinjiang. One study from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute linked 82 brands to Uighur forced labor — either directly or through their supply chains —  including big names like Amazon, Apple, BMW, Adidas, H&M, the North Face, Puma, Gap, Nike, Sketchers, and Uniqlo.  

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called out several U.S. companies widely believed to be profiting from forced Uyghur labor. “For far too long companies like Nike and Apple and Amazon and Coca-Cola were using forced labor. They were benefiting from forced labor or sourcing from suppliers that were suspected of using forced labor,” he said.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), normally a fierce ideological rival to Rubio, echoed his statements, alleging that a number of U.S. technology companies are selling equipment to China which is aiding and abetting them in the persecution of Uyghurs.

In an effort to curb the involvement of U.S. companies in the atrocities in Xinjiang, the U.S. joined the U.K., E.U., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to implement a round of multilateral sanctions against China earlier this year. The U.S. has also banned imports of cotton coming from Xinjiang, where Uyghurs are routinely subject to involuntary labor in the fields that account for almost a fifth of the world’s cotton production. The ban sent the global textile market into partial disarray, and many manufacturers have struggled to divest their entangled supply chains away from Uyghur forced labor.

Uyghur forced labor is involved in the production of a wide array of consumer goods sold in America: clothes, shoes, phones, cars, and computers have all been found to benefit from these atrocities. Notably, many of the technologies central to the Biden administration’s climate change initiatives, such as solar panels and batteries, are highly likely to be linked to Uyghur forced labor according to research. That has massive implications for the infrastructure plans currently going through Congress, as it could increase US dependence on forced labor as we transition to clean energy.

We covered this struggle by companies to divest on this blog almost a year ago, noting how many have done little to nothing to cease involvement in Xinjiang and ensure that their supply chains are free from forced labor. Unfortunately, little has changed since then, and in fact, exports to the U.S. from Xinjiang have actually doubled in the first quarter of 2021.

This is inexcusable, and demonstrates that a number of foreign manufacturers would rather be complicit in gross human rights violations than figure out a way to source their products in a way that does not subject workers in their supply chains to forced internment, labor, and ethnic cleansing.

It is time for companies to cease manufacturing in China when they cannot be certain their supply chains are free from Uyghur forced labor. And if the private sector continues to fail to do this, then the U.S. government ought to step in to ban all products from Xinjiang.

Legislation to do just that passed the House last congressional session… and big companies like Nike and Coca-Cola worked to water it down. Similar legislation has been introduced this session. Congress should pass this important measure, and not allow corporate lobbyists to weaken it.

The atrocities in Xinjiang also clearly illustrate why it is so crucial to boost domestic manufacturing in the United States. By ensuring that our supply chains are grounded within our borders, we can better hold companies to ethical standards that ensure workers are treated well, instead of being coerced against their will. The stakes have never been higher: we must boost American manufacturing as a means to protect global human rights.

For those reasons, we are glad to see these statements by the G7 leaders and Sens. Rubio and Markey, among others. Hopefully far more voices will join them to stop any further profiting off genocide, and companies must do their part stop manufacturing products in the Xinjiang region.