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Olympics Organizers Insists Staff Uniforms Are Forced Labor-Free

Olympics organizers said they have found no evidence forced labor was used to make branded uniforms for next month’s Beijing Winter Games following U.S. lawmakers’ concerns about the provenance of the garments’ materials.

The United States’ Congressional-Executive Commission on China wrote to the International Olympics Committee (IOC) earlier this month seeking “assurances” that Anta Sports and Hengyuanxiang Group (HYX Group), which are providing staff members with apparel and footwear, did not use cotton from China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where authorities are accused of committing crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities.

“Cotton produced in the XUAR is synonymous with forced labor and the systematic repression that takes place there,” wrote Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Democratic Representative James P. McGovern of Massachusetts and Republican Representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey. “​​There is a worrisome possibility that IOC personnel or others attending the 2022 Olympic Games will be wearing clothing contaminated by forced labor.”

The IOC said in a statement on Wednesday that its third-party social audits, which began in September, did not uncover any “extreme violations against our IOC supplier code, including no forced, bonded, indentured or child labor.” Incidents of non-compliance, including those involving health and safety, working hours and wages, that were identified are being remediated as part of its previously agreed-upon corrective action plans, the Switzerland-based body said.

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“This continued engagement with suppliers and their factories helps build awareness of our requirements both on the supplier code and around continuous improvement,” it added.

Anta Sports and HYX Group, which also provided IOC with uniforms for the Tokyo Summer Games last year, both produced “proofs of origin” of the materials used in their products, the organization said. Anta Sports said in the same statement that “sustainability considerations” were taken into account when designing their uniforms, which comprise recycled materials certified by the Global Recycled Standard and do not contain cotton. HYX Group said the cotton used in its products was sourced from a “major international trading company” and did not originate in China.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China had asked the IOC to explain why it take Anta Sports and HYX Group at their word about the absence of modern slavery in their supply chains given warnings by social-compliance firms and government agencies that audits in Xinjiang are unreliable because third-party auditors lack the necessary access required to conduct satisfactory workplace reviews.

The IOC said the due diligence it commissioned was designed with a “beyond audit” framework in mind, meaning they have a stronger focus on “meaningful engagement” with workers about their labor conditions while assessing the root causes of non-compliance.

“The audit teams always interact with workers in their own languages and away from management,” it said. “This allows IOC audits to more reliably identify sensitive issues, such as discriminatory practices or harassment. The IOC audits last on average twice as long as standard social audits and involve at least two auditors per site.”

The controversy over the Beijing Games extends beyond uniforms, however. The United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Lithuania, and more recently Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, have ordered diplomatic boycotts of the event, citing a desire to hold China accountable for human-rights abuses against the Uyghurs, which Beijing has vehemently and continuously denied.

Though France said it has no plans to join the diplomatic boycott, the country’s parliament on Thursday passed an opposition-led resolution that calls on the government to condemn China for “crimes against humanity and genocide” against the Turkic Muslim community and take the “necessary measures” in its foreign policy to protect the Uyghur people.

The non-binding resolution was adopted with 169 votes in favor and one vote against. “China is a great power. We love the Chinese people,” Socialist party chief Olivier Faure said. “But we refuse to submit to propaganda from a regime that is banking on our cowardice and our avarice to perpetrate a genocide in plain sight.”

China’s embassy in France, writing in a statement on its website, denounced all accusations of genocide and other abuses against the Uyghurs as “pure lies based on prejudices and hostility towards China.”

Both the Trump and Biden administrations have labeled Beijing’s treatment of Muslim minorities as genocide, as have the Dutch and Canadian parliaments. President Biden recently signed into law a measure that bars all products from Xinjiang from entering the United States unless importers can provide “clear and convincing evidence” that they weren’t made with forced labor. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is also required to employ the rebuttable presumption 180 days from the law’s enactment, meaning it will take effect sometime in June.