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UK-based clothing retailers H&M, NIKE, Boohoo, The North Face and other retailers have denied allegations of forced labour of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China.

The retailers met with the Business, Energy, and Industry Strategy (BEIS) committee to address allegations that their products involve slave labour by Uighur Muslims in China.

The meeting came after numerous reports from earlier this year, claiming that Uighur minority groups are working under illegal conditions for the fashion brands in re-education factories.

Forced labour in Xinjiang: Uighurs in detention camps

In February, a report titled ‘Uighurs for Sale: Re-education, forced labour, and surveillance beyond Xinjiang’ was released by think-tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). The report said that China would be forcing Uighurs to work in factories as a part of their “re-education”.

The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority group from Central and East Asia. The Chinese government has made efforts since 2017 to suppress this group by holding them in detention camps within Xinjiang, where millions of Uighurs are punished and indoctrinated.

The Chinese government denied that these detention camps existed in 2018 when allegations were raised by a UN panel. However, they were then forced to admit that these facilities exist after images of camp construction emerged, to which the government responded that these buildings were “re-education centres” for Uighurs.

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By GlobalData

According to the ASPI, more than 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of the Xinjiang region or from detention camps to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019. Earlier this year, these factories claimed to be part of the supply chain for H&M, Nike, and Boohoo, as well as 80 more global brands.

Response from H&M and Nike

H&M head of supply chain David Savman said: “When these serious allegations came up, we made investigations into all of our suppliers. We didn’t find any proof of any breach of our sustainability commitments, where we have very clear guidance of how our ethical processes should happen.”

Savman added that H&M has worked with accreditation groups to ensure that it’s supply chain no longer uses cotton from the Xinjiang region.

Nike vice president Jaycee Pribulsky said that the retailer was “deeply concerned” about the Xinjiang region, adding that Nike does not source any raw cotton.

She said: “Regarding Xinjiang, Nike has confirmed with its suppliers that there are no spun yarns or textiles manufactured in the area in our products.”

Response from Boohoo

Boohoo responsible sourcing director Andrew Reaney told MP members of the BEIS committee: “We were quite shocked by the revelations around the Uighurs and what’s happening in the Xinjiang province. We wrote to all our suppliers across the supply chain to confirm that we have no manufacturing or fabric links to that particular region.

“That was done, and all of our suppliers confirmed that they have no manufacturing or fabric links to that region.”

Reaney noted Boohoo’s ‘Levitt report’, a report conducted by Alison Levitt QC which gave evidence that Boohoo was not aware of poor factory conditions amid July’s Leicester scandal. He said: “The purpose of being here today and the Levitt report is to demonstrate our sincerity and commitment to absolute 100% supply chain transparency, irrespective of the source and region, whether it’s Leicester or whether it’s China.”