The Fair Labor Association (FLA) has closely monitored the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, China over the past two years. In an April 2019 issue brief, we cautioned FLA affiliates to conduct additional due diligence to detect potential instances of forced labor in Xinjiang. Based on increasing evidence of measures targeting Uyghurs we updated that guidance in January 2020 to advise that effective due diligence was no longer possible in the Region. We advised companies to map product supply chains to determine if the cotton/yarn/textiles used in their finished goods originated in Xinjiang, and to presume that raw materials, semi-finished, or finished goods from Xinjiang are likely to be produced with forced labor. We also cautioned that companies should presume there is forced labor when workers are recruited or deployed through government labor agencies in factories throughout China.
In a March 2020 statement, the FLA Board of Directors called for the Chinese government to end forced labor and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang and directed affiliates to review their sourcing relationships (direct and indirect) in Xinjiang, identify alternative sourcing opportunities, and develop timebound plans to ensure that their sourcing is in line with the FLA’s principles.
Since the FLA issued that statement nine months ago, evidence from a range of credible sources, including governments and independent researchers, continues to mount indicating that the Chinese government is expanding its policy of repression. The evidence shows that Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities remain subject to horrendous, ongoing human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention and forced labor. Significantly, more than 100 international civil society organizations have joined forces in a Call to Action to stop forced labor in Xinjiang, an effort we believe is helpful in seeking to address these systemic rights abuses.
In its 20-year history, the FLA has never told companies a specific country or region was banned for sourcing because there have always been ways to address labor issues through effective due diligence. The situation in Xinjiang presents unique human rights and labor violations that defy conventional due diligence norms. Given the high risk of forced labor, the overwhelming evidence of human rights abuses, and the multiple layers of government sanctions, the FLA is prohibiting sourcing and production (including direct and indirect sourcing of raw materials, inputs, or finished products) from Xinjiang.
In the last two years, we have provided resources to FLA affiliates to facilitate the tracing of supply chains, conducted training on detecting forced labor, and bolstered our principles and benchmarks to ensure that our affiliates have tools to respond to this human rights crisis. We will continue to support our affiliates in their efforts to address the complex challenges presented by the Chinese government’s state-imposed forced labor in Xinjiang, and throughout China.
UPDATE: November 29, 2021
How is this being implemented?
If a company finds forced labor anywhere in its supply chain, we expect it to fix the problem if it can—and to change its sourcing relationships if it cannot. The companies we work with are keenly aware of the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and they are working to ensure that their supply chains are not connected to those abuses. We are supporting them with guidance and supply chain tracing tools and training.
FLA expects companies to identify potential sourcing relationships there and take steps to sever those ties. In addition, companies may face legal, financial, and reputational risks if they do not act. FLA companies regularly report to the FLA on their progress against our standards, including on forced labor. In 2022 and beyond, we will be looking for reports of specific measures our affiliates have taken to cut potential linkages to the Region based on their tracing activities.
How is the FLA helping companies address forced labor in their Xinjiang supply chains?
The FLA is providing resources and training to help companies understand forced labor risks, identify the high-risk parts of their supply chains, and to trace their supply chains. In addition to companies communicating the policy of prohibiting sourcing from Xinjiang to their Tier 1 suppliers, they need to engage in the systematic effort of mapping to gain visibility into the cascading relationships of raw material suppliers to their Tier 1 suppliers. This mapping is an essential first step to address risks related to forced labor.
Does the FLA Support the Call to Action?
FLA views company engagement with organizations that represent workers as an essential component of effective due diligence that ensures a focus on the experience and voice of workers.
The Coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labor is now a group of over 400 CSOs working on forced labor and human rights abuses in China. The Coalition has issued a Call to Action for companies to “ensure that they are not supporting or benefiting from the pervasive and extensive forced labor of the Uyghur population and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples, perpetrated by the Chinese government.”
FLA supports the goals of the Call to Action. No company wants to be – or should be – complicit in forced labor, and the Call to Action is helpful in seeking to address these systemic rights abuses.