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Forced labor risk in Xinjiang, China

Issues Forced Labor
For more recent guidance on Xinjiang, see FLA’s December 2020 statement

The FLA has identified an increased risk for forced labor in Xinjiang, China. The risk stems from two sources: (1) China’s internment of over one million Chinese citizens of ethnic Turkic origin in Xinjiang, and (2) forced labor by prisoners incarcerated in China’s regular judicial system. The risk is present at all levels of the supply chain, from the farm level (for cotton and other agriculture products) to the finished-goods manufacture.

Normally forced labor can be detected and remediated through effective due diligence measures. In the case of Xinjiang, however, companies cannot rely on normal due diligence activities to either confirm—or rule out—the presence of forced labor. Impediments to effective due diligence and effective remediation of forced labor stem from:

  • Restricted access: The Chinese government has restricted regular travel to the region and imposed heavy surveillance on those who do travel there. Independent auditors are not able to gain unfettered access to work sites.
  • Unreliable information: Workers are not able to communicate freely about their status at the work site or the working conditions without fear of political reprisal against themselves or their family members. Other individuals in the region, including auditors, may not be able to communicate freely about their findings without fear of reprisal.
  • Lack of effective remediation options: Suppliers operating in the region may face a situation in which the Chinese government, not the company, mandates and controls recruitment of affected workers. This may limit their ability to communicate freely about the situation as well as their ability to protect affected workers.

FLA standards on forced labor detail more than a dozen indicators for companies evaluating whether their suppliers or producers are upholding their human rights commitments and can be useful at any supply chain level. Beyond the basic requirement that “workers shall have the right to enter into and to terminate their employment freely,” and the clear prohibitions on “prison labor [and] bonded labor,” FLA standards also require that workers must have reasonable freedom of movement at work, must not be bound to their jobs by debt, and may not be forced to work overtime involuntarily.

This issue brief provides nine recommendations for steps companies should consider given the compulsory nature of the “re-education” camps and the reported risk that detainees of these camps may be sent involuntarily to labor in workplaces (factories or farms) either in the “re-education” camp compound or outside the camp compound.

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