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UK government sued over failure to block Xinjiang cotton

By Rachel Douglass


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Credit: Manufy

Authorities in the UK are set to appear in court at the end of October after they were sued for their failure to block products made with forced labour from China’s Xinjiang region.

Human rights watchdogs Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and Germany’s World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said in a joint statement that the suit brought against the government will be heard in Britain’s High Court on October 25 and 26.

The two organisations argued that imports had involved forced labour on a scale that violated UK principles prohibiting the importation of prison-made goods, and should have therefore been halted by customs authorities.

The filing further named a number of companies who had sourced cotton from Xinjiang, including Muji and Uniqlo, both of which operate within the UK.

In November 2021, GLAN and WUC initiated a judicial review against the decision of UK authorities to not halt imports.

It comes as China faces increased pressure over allegations of the use of forced labour in its network of internment camps, where millions of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim ethnic groups were reportedly subjected to forced labour and torture.

In September, the United Nations published a detailed report on the matter, in which it said there was evidence that “serious human rights violations have been committed”.

China responded to the damning report describing the camps as vocational training centres designed to prevent “religious extremism”, and that the facilities have since been closed.

The region, which produces around a fifth of the world’s cotton, has been the subject of an increasing number of similar reports over recent years, and has faced criticism from the US and nine other Western parliaments.