Australian Retailers Fear Their Chinese Goods Come from Muslim Concentration Camps

GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

Australia is “deeply concerned” about China’s internment of Uighurs and predominantly Muslim minorities in concentration camps in Xinjiang province, where they face a plethora of human rights abuses including forced labor, the foreign affairs minister declared on Monday.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s concerns came ahead of an expose by Four Corners, an investigative journalism program disseminated by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), highlighted that “mounting evidence suggests a system of forced labor is emerging [at the internment camps] in Xinjiang,” the source of cotton for Australian retailers Target, Cotton On, and possibly others.

Cotton On and Target Australia, an independent company from its namesake retailer in the United States, are now probing their relationship with their supplier in Xinjiang, Four Corners found, adding:

Target Australia told Four Corners that one of its direct suppliers is using a small amount of cotton yarn from a mill owned by a company called Huafu Fashion Co in Xinjiang.

In a call, the manager of the Huafu factory denied to Four Corners that his company used any form of involuntary labour.

Target Australia said it was, “conducting a review of the situation”.

International brands H&M, Adidas and Esprit are investigating or have suspended their relationships with Huafu following the Wall Street Journal report and UNIQLO, Nike, and PVH Corp — the company behind Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger — said they are looking into the issue of forced labour in Xinjiang. Nike said it was reviewing whether its suppliers sourced materials from the far-western region. Ikea told Four Corners that about 15 per cent of its cotton comes from Xinjiang, but that is not aware of any forced labor among its sub-suppliers in China.

Four Corners determined that several other Australian retailers were potentially buying cotton from Xinjiang, where camp “detainees were not the only people forced to work against their will — unemployed people and farmers were also being sent to the textile park.”

The companies vowed to investigate if Xinjiang is the source of their cotton.

Asked by ABC’s Radio National (RN) about the extrajudicial detention of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, Minister Payne said Australia was “deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the use of detention facilities,” the Guardian reported Monday.

“Those concerns have been raised with China regularly including by me directly in my visit last year,” she added.

Payne noted that Australia was one of the signatories of a letter by 22 members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) demanding that China end its campaign of mass incarceration of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in concentration camps. The letter angered Beijing, which has repeatedly defended the use of the detention centers.

Although the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) accounts for 15, or more than 30 percent, of the HRC, none of the Muslim-majority countries signed the letter.

The Muslim world has been largely silent about the mistreatment of their fellow believers in Xinjiang.

Foreign Policy (FP) recently argued, “the Trump administration has done more for the millions in camps than any Islamic leader,” noting that it “has been the most robust in its censure of Beijing over its treatment of the Uighurs.”

There have been bipartisan calls in Congress to sanction Chinese officials who oversee the detention centers.

Officials from the United Nations and the United States have accused China of forcing between one million and two million Muslim minorities into so-called re-education or mind-transformation camps where they face illegal incarceration, communist indoctrination, torture, forced labor, and even extrajudicial killings, among other abuses.

China denies the accusations, saying the camps are vocational and training facilities aimed at combating religious extremism, terrorism, and separatism. China argues that its measures in Xinjiang have contained terrorism in the region. Some Uighur Christians have also been sent to the detention centers, designed to eradicate their religious and ethnic identities.

Christian and Muslim persecution has reached “historic proportions” in recent years, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told American lawmakers this year.

Recent news reports have surfaced revealing that China is also deliberately separating Muslim children from their family, faith, and language in a bid to indoctrinate them to be loyal to the country’s inherently atheist Communist Party.

China is allegedly holding “ten Australian permanent residents – including a two-year-old Australian citizen” at the concentration camps, the Guardian reported Monday.

Payne said:

We do request consular access when we are notified of such a detention. It’s very important to note there are complex family arrangements around family members who are in Xinjiang.

But if they’re not Australian citizens we don’t have an entitlement to consular access, [and] China doesn’t allow consular access to dual nationals unless they’ve actually entered China on their Australian passports, so that does add to the complexity.

Some Uighurs have joined jihadi groups, are known to operate in the neighboring Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and have carried out attacks in China. However, critics have long accused China of oppressing its Uighur ethnic minority.

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