Uighurs are facing eradication in China and major clothing brands are complicit

More than 80 percent of China’s cotton is grown in the Uighur region, approaching 20 per cent of all global production – we cannot simply wish away this elephant in the room, says Louisa Greve

People on a street in a small village where ethnic Uighurs live on the outskirts of Shayar in the region of Xinjiang
People on a street in a small village where ethnic Uighurs live on the outskirts of Shayar in the region of Xinjiang(AFP via Getty Images)
China is implementing a top-down, systematic campaign to eradicate Uighur identity, and eliminate Uighurs as a distinct people, through mass internment, pervasive surveillance, and forced labour.

Clothing companies are forced to grapple with this horrific reality because China is the world’s second-largest producer of cotton. More than 80 percent of China’s cotton is grown in the Uighur region, approaching 20 per cent of all global production. As a result, almost every major clothing brand and retailer sourcing cotton products from China is potentially implicated.

While China’s ethno-religious concentration camps were whitewashed as “re-education” and “vocational training” centres, the main euphemism for the forced labour system is “poverty alleviation”. As early as 2015, the Xinjiang government announced a plan to expand the textile and garment industries in the region, to employ one million workers by 2023. The workforce would be drawn primarily from the southern Uighur heartland. In practice, this expansion was driven by government recruitment quotas and subsidies for companies to take on the targeted workforce.

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