Uyghur Rights Advocates Win Appeal, Forcing UK Crime Watchdog to Investigate China Cotton Imports

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The U.K. National Crime Agency (NCA) is being compelled to revisit its decision not to open an investigation into Chinese cotton imports suspected to have been produced with forced labor.

A London court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and the Global Action Network (GLAN), late last week, deciding that NCA’s refusal to conduct a probe into Xinjiang cotton being imported into the country was unlawful. The decision comes a year after WUC and GLAN’s unsuccessful bid to have the issue investigated.

Three appeals court judges overturned the high court’s decision last week. Depending on the results of the investigation, British high street retailers could be on the hook for any imports found to have been produced with forced labor under the Proceeds of Crime Act (PoCA).

The judges said there was a “diverse, substantial, and growing body of evidence” pointing to massive human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang. GLAN and WUC estimated that 85 percent of cotton originating in China is grown in the Uyghur Autonomous Region (UAR), meaning that it’s likely tainted by slave labor.

“This litigation has been critical in recognizing the mass atrocities being committed against Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim people by the Chinese government, and holding to account those complicit in, or profiting from, these crimes,” GLAN senior lawyer Dearbhla Minogue said. “There is an abundance of evidence that U.K. companies are importing forced labor cotton from China. Following this ruling, we expect the National Crime Agency will investigate and prosecute where appropriate to prevent forced labour cotton from flooding the U.K. market.”

Another member of GLAN’s legal counsel, Leanna Burnard, called the decision a “watershed moment for supply chains profiting from forced labor and other crimes.”

WUC president Dolkun Isa said the moment was “a huge win” that will “set a real precedent for upcoming similar cases regarding the import of Uyghur forced labor goods, in the U.K. or elsewhere.” Isa said the hope is that the decision will prompt more British fashion firms to act with caution when sourcing goods from China, knowing that the government is looking into the matter with more diligence.

“This is a monumental victory and a moral triumph. For far too long, there has been no international court to hold China accountable,” WUC U.K. director Rahima Mahmut added.

“The U.K. government’s lack of action forced us to pursue this case, and it is incredibly heartening to see the judges’ findings support our arguments,” she said. “Our fight has not only been against genocide but also against the forced labor imposed on countless Uyghurs in East Turkestan under the suffocating CCP regime. This win represents a measure of justice for those Uyghurs and other Turkic people who have been tortured and subjected to slave labor there.”

Mahmut urged the government to consider implementing tougher legislation moving forward.

GLAN director Dr. Gearóid Ó Cuinn said the landmark judgement will have reverberations beyond the U.K., as it “sends a message to other countries which allow the importation of Uyghur cotton and other atrocity crime goods” that they “ought to address retailers operating in their markets who are trading in and profiting from these proceeds of crime.”

Meanwhile, Beijing is hitting back at the U.S., which it has long seen as the source of the scrutiny now emanating from other countries across the Western world.

At a Monday press conference, foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said criticized the U.S. State Department’s recently released report on international religious freedoms, which claimed that China regularly conducts surveillance upon its citizens and represses Muslims in the UAR.

“The so-called ‘genocide’ allegation is nothing but a lie propagated by the U.S. side,” she said. “Xinjiang enjoys social stability, economic development, ethnic solidarity, religious harmony and rising living standards.”

“The U.S., however, ignores those facts and keeps peddling the lies and disinformation,” she added. “Its real aim is to create a pretext to keep China down.”

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