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US Lawmakers Demand Forced-Labor ‘Assurances’ on Olympics Uniforms

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers wrote to Olympics organizers seeking “assurances” that the official apparel for next month’s Beijing Winter Games was produced without forced labor.

In a letter dated Jan. 12, the United States’ Congressional-Executive Commission on China voiced concerns that Anta Sports and Hengyuanxiang Group (HYX Group), which manufactured the uniforms for International Olympic Committee (IOC) members and staff, continue to tout their use of cotton from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) despite rampant reports of Muslim minority persecution and exploitation.

“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 commission is asking the IOC to produce a copy of the “certificate of origin” that HYX Group reportedly provided the organization to confirm the absence of forced labor in its supply chain, despite warnings by social-compliance firms and government agencies that audits of the region are unreliable. Lawmakers also urged the IOC to publicly communicate Anta’s assurances that its merchandise is untainted by modern slavery while explaining why such assurances should be believed, again because restrictions on the movement of third-party auditors have prevented the necessary access required to conduct satisfactory workplace reviews.

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“Forced labor plays an integral role in the genocide taking place against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in the region,” the letter said. “As a starting point to fulfilling its commitment to uphold and respect human rights, and in line with the preservation of human dignity enshrined in the Olympic Charter, the IOC must uphold and respect the human rights of those who made the uniforms on their backs.”

The IOC said it has received the commission’s letter and will reply in due course. “The IOC has recently carried out third-party due diligence social audits for its own uniforms, which will be provided by Anta and HYX at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022,” a spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “The results demonstrated no issue in relation to forced labor.”

The missive comes one week after labor campaigners took aim at the IOC for failing to disclose the steps it has taken to identify and eliminate any material produced using coerced Uyghur labor. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition, a group of more than 400 organizations from 40 countries, said the IOC rejected its proposed terms for a “substantive, constructive, and mutually respectful two-way dialogue” while turning a blind eye to “red flags” such as Anta’s March statement avowing it has always bought and used cotton produced in China, including from Xinjiang, and that it will continue to do so in the future.

“As a sister of a victim of this genocide who is paying the price in some dark dungeon for my activism in the U.S., I am very disappointed that the IOC is treating Uyghurs’ lives as disposable,” Rushan Abbas, executive director of the Campaign for Uyghurs, a member of the coalition, said at the time. “The IOC’s disrespect for directly affected rights-holders, in this case the Uyghur people, is clearly reflected in their unwillingness to engage in reasonable dialogue. We therefore can have no confidence—nor can athletes, sponsors, or virtual spectators have confidence—that any of the thousands of items of Olympic-branded merchandise are not stained with the blood and sweat of my people.”

Senator Merkley, who co-authored the Senate’s version of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a revised form of which President Biden signed into law just before Christmas, making most goods from Xinjiang verboten in the United States, recently demanded that the Beijing Winter Games be postponed or relocated unless the Chinese government ends its “egregious human-rights abuses” on ethnic minorities.

“To proceed with business as usual is implied consent and suggests the IOC has learned nothing from the Chinese government’s use of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to score propaganda wins and distract from its appalling human-rights record,” he and Representative McGovern wrote in a letter to the IOC in July. “The IOC is on course to set a dark precedent where the behavior of future Olympic host governments is unconstrained by the international spotlight provided by the Olympic Games.”

The United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Lithuania, and more recently Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, have declared a diplomatic boycott of the Games in light of what they described as Beijing’s crimes against humanity, which Chinese officials have denied. Although the European Commission overwhelmingly passed a resolution last summer calling on diplomatic officials to boycott the Olympics, the measure was non-binding. Member states such as France and Germany have waffled on making a decision, maintaining that a position must be made as a bloc.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month that the administration was sending a “clear message” that “business” can no longer function “as usual” amid “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity” in the region.

“​​The athletes on Team U.S.A have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent, as we cheer them on from home,” she added. “I don’t think we felt it was the right step to penalize athletes who have been training, preparing for this moment and felt we could send a clear message by not sending an official U.S. delegation.”