GENEVA (29 March 2021) – UN human rights experts* today raised serious concerns about the alleged detention and forced labour of Muslim Uyghurs in China, calling for unhindered access to the country to conduct fact-finding missions and urging global and domestic companies to closely scrutinize their supply chains.
Several experts appointed by the Human Rights Council said they had received information that connected over 150 domestic Chinese and foreign domiciled companies to serious allegations of human rights abuses against Uyghur workers.
“We are deeply concerned by these allegations which, if proven, would constitute grave human rights abuses,” stated the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, one of eight UN independent human rights mandates to raise their concerns over treatment of members of the Uyghur minority.
“We stand ready to strengthen our dialogue with the Government of China at the earliest opportunity and welcome the Government’s prompt response to these allegations as well as its willingness to continue the constructive engagement with us. As independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council, of which China is a State Member, we consider that an official visit to China (including the Xinjiang region) would be the ideal opportunity for such dialogue and to assess the situation for ourselves based on free and unhindered access.”
According to sources, Uyghur workers have reportedly been subjected to exploitative working and abusive living conditions that may constitute arbitrary detention, human trafficking, forced labour and enslavement by the use of forced labour.
The sources allege hundreds of thousands of members of the Uyghur minority have been held in “re-education” facilities. Many have also reportedly been forcibly transferred to work in factories in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and in other Chinese provinces.
“Uyghur workers have allegedly been forcibly employed in low-skilled, labor-intensive industries, such as agribusiness, textile and garment, automotive and technological sectors,” stated Dante Pesce, Chairperson of the Working Group.
“While the Government of China justifies its actions relating to the treatment of Uyghurs by combatting terrorism and violent extremism, poverty alleviation or development purposes, we nevertheless respectfully urge the Government to immediately cease any such measures that are not fully compliant with international law, norms and standards relating to human rights, including the rights of minorities,” continued Pesce.
Many businesses and factories implicated in the abusive practices are reportedly operating as part of supply chains of numerous well-known global brands, the experts added.
The UN experts have written to the Government of China as well as private businesses, both inside and outside of China that may be implicated in the alleged abuses. They have also written to governments of 13 countries where the businesses are domiciled or headquartered, recalling the obligations of home States under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to ensure that businesses under their territory and/or jurisdiction respect all human rights throughout their operations.
“Many businesses are also implicated in these allegations, either directly or through their supply chains. Businesses must not turn a blind eye to this and must conduct meaningful human rights due diligence in line with the UN Guiding Principles to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for human rights abuses caused, contributed to or directly linked to their operations, products or services in Xinjiang and in other Chinese provinces,” said Surya Deva, Vice Chairperson of the Working Group.
“At the same time, the Chinese Government must create an environment conducive for all businesses operating in China to conduct human rights due diligence in line with international standards,” noted Deva.
The UN experts said that several mandates have long-standing requests to conduct official visits to China, and the Government is encouraged to respond positively to these requests.
*The experts: The UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (known as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights): Mr. Dante Pesce (Chairperson), Mr. Surya Deva (Vice-Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska, Mr. Githu Muigai, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mr. Mumba Malila and Mr. Seong-Phil Hong; Ms. Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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