China is trying to convince United Nations member states to skip an upcoming virtual session about the repression of Turkic Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, describing the event as “politically motivated” and a “desecration” to the intergovernmental institution.
“The U.S. has banded up with several countries, abused the United Nations’ resources and platform, and smeared and attacked China to serve its own interests,” Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said at a press conference in Beijing Monday. “This is total blasphemy against the United Nations.”
China has accused the organizers of Wednesday’s event, which include Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, of using “human rights issues as a political tool to interfere in China’s internal affairs like Xinjiang, to create division and turbulence and disrupt China’s development” and to provoke “confrontation with China,” according to a note seen by Reuters Friday. The Chinese mission to the United Nations confirmed both the note and China’s disapproval of the session, Reuters said.
The event will serve to “discuss how the UN system, member states and civil society can support and advocate for the human rights of members of ethnic Turkic communities in Xinjiang,” according to an invitation.
While Beijing has repeatedly denied allegations that crimes against humanity are occurring in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minority groups make up more than half the region’s population of 25 million, researchers and rights advocates say it has used draconian measures such as forced incarceration, forced labor, torture, sexual violence and forced sterilizations as part of a broader campaign of indoctrination, religious and cultural erasure, and assimilation.
The ruling Communist Party has long maintained that its so-called reeducation centers provide jobs skills that promote economic growth and fight religious extremism. Others, including the British Parliament, the Netherlands and the United States, have denounced China’s actions as “genocide,” imposing individual and regional sanctions as punishment.
Human Rights Watch, whose executive director, Ken Roth, will be participating in the UN event, urged the organization’s Human Rights Council last month to adopt a resolution that would create a commission of inquiry with the authority to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity, identify officials responsible for the suspected abuses and “provide a roadmap for holding them accountable.”
The UN secretary-general, it said in a report, should publicly voice support for a commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Xinjiang, publicly and privately urge Chinese authorities to end abuses against Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang and publicly express support for accountability for those responsible for crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. The General Assembly, too, should adopt a resolution that “explicitly supports concrete measures for accountability,” including targeted sanctions against those responsible for crimes against humanity, it added.
Despite mounting evidence of the Communist Party’s “intent to destroy”—along with Chinese officials’ admitted desire to reduce the Uyghurs’ “problematic” population density—not every nation is willing to say the g-word. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for instance, has been loathe to condemn Beijing’s actions in the strongest possible terms. Speaking to Parliament in April, Nigel Adams, Britain’s minister for Asia, reiterated Johnson‘s longstanding position that any formal profession of genocide is a matter for “competent” courts to decide.
Australia has tiptoed around the word genocide, as has New Zealand, which unanimously declared last week that severe human rights abuses were taking place against the Uyghurs, but only after the motion was revised to remove the term.
In parliament, Brooke van Velden, deputy leader of the country’s smaller ACT party, said she had to use the phrase “severe human rights abuses” to secure the approval of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s ruling Labour Party. “Our conscience demands that if we believe there is a genocide, we should say so,” Van Velden said.
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta defended the government’s decision to sidestep the word “genocide,” however, saying it wasn’t due to a lack of concern but rather because genocide is the “gravest of international crimes and a formal legal determination should only be reached following a rigorous assessment on the basis of international law.”
Brands are likewise afraid to speak about the matter openly, especially after a vociferous consumer-led (and state-sanctioned) boycott in March that wiped H&M from China’s biggest e-commerce websites and service apps, such as Alibaba’s Tmall, JD.com and Pinduoduo, and tanked the Tmall sales of Adidas and Nike. While efforts to play to both Chinese and Western consumers can appear mealy-mouthed and insincere, few brands are willing to mention “Xinjiang” and “forced labor” in the same breath for fear of rousing a new wave of rancor.
This was the case Friday when Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted noted a “significant drop” in traffic across physical and digital channels in China at the end of March in a call with investors.
“When it comes to consumers, we have to the extent possible engaged in dialog with them in a respectful way, respecting their tradition and culture,” Rorsted said, not referring to Xinjiang by name. “That has initially been somewhat constrained because of where the situation was. That is more normalizing now and that’s why we’re seeing a slow and steady recovery.”
Canada Goose, whose CEO recently said China is an “increasingly crucial” market for the outerwear brand, told the National Post last week that it requires all its suppliers, “no matter where they are in the world,” to sign a supplier code of conduct preventing the use of forced labor, though it did not mention Xinjiang.
Aritzia, which belongs to the Better Cotton Initiative, a nonprofit that landed in hot water with Chinese netizens after freezing licensing and assurance activities in Xinjiang, told the outlet that it “does not manufacture in China’s Xinjiang region and is in full compliance with all trade regulations.” Joe Fresh, the discount fashion line run by Loblaws, “reached out to vendors for a commitment that they will not use cotton from the Xinjiang region.” Lululemon, the National Post said, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The yoga pants brand did not immediately respond to Sourcing Journal’s request for comment.
But even brands that say they eschew Xinjiang cotton are indulging in little more than rhetoric unless they commit to something more concrete, labor advocates say.
Only seven fashion businesses—Asos, Eileen Fisher, Marks and Spencer, OVS, Reformation, Whistles owner TFG Limited and WE Fashion—in fact, have “committed” to the steps laid out in a call to action developed by End Uyghur Forced Labor, a coalition of more than 180 human-rights groups, including the Anti-Slavery International, Clean Clothes Campaign, and Worker Rights Consortium, that wants brands to abandon any complicity in human-rights atrocities against Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups in China.
“We maintain that the only way companies can be sure they aren’t selling clothes and textiles made with Uyghur forced labor—and to ensure that they are not extending the risk of complicity to their consumers—is to take all the steps laid out in the call to action,” the coalition said in a statement last month. “ As such, apparel brands and retailers must commit to banning any sourcing from the Uyghur region, from cotton to finished garments. Companies must also cut all ties with any supplier based outside the Uyghur Region implicated in Uyghur forced labor, at a parent company or facility level.”