CBP Forced Labor Expo Gets Schooled

"Everyone needs to be looking”


In a presentation the CBPs Forced Labor Expo in Wednesday, Dr. Laura Murphy of Sheffield Hallam University (UK) made an impassioned plea for industry to know their supply chain.  

[Her comments have been edited for brevity.]

“What we're talking about here today is extraordinarily urgent. It is probably, I hope, the worst human rights crisis we'll see in our lifetimes.   Our team have traced the ways in which the Chinese government the PRC government has invested enormous resources in moving manufacturing to the Uyghur region intentionally, to transform that region. Transforming that region they claim is a development project, but it is in fact a major integral part of a genocide.

We look at how that forced labor is affecting our international supply chains and try to produce the knowledge base that allows us to take action.  We've looked at solar we've looked at cotton apparel we've done research on PVC and building materials, and we looked at the automotive industry.

The thing that I think might be being missed here is that when folks talk about labor transfers that is a euphemism.  It's a neat clean phrasing for a system of forced labor.   The way we know that is because, while labor transfers and operate across the entirety of China, in the Uyghur region they operate on a backdrop of extraordinary coercion that is that is mechanized that is operationalized through the threat of internment.

The thing about the situation in the Uyghur region is those labor transfers - somebody could say yes to them, but no one can say no.  To resist a government program is to be aligned with terrorism; this is directly written into government directives.  Anyone who says no knows that they are risking going to an internment camp, and they know what happens there because there is no one in that region who has not gone, or been, or had a family member go to a camp.

There are few things that experts in the world agree on but experts on forced labor agree on: this system is a massive and unprecedented system of state sponsored forced labor,  and so it is all of our duty to address.

People told us the Xinjiang region is a black box, but the truth is if we can see it you can see it.  It is all online. We are not hackers; we don't know anything about the dark web.  We just Google it y'all. We Google it in Chinese. You could use Google Translate.

So if we can see it you can see it. You can be doing this work. You can use these tools, but you could also just Google your suppliers name in Chinese. I cannot tell you how many companies tell me they do not know their supplier’s Chinese name. How do you know anything about your supplier if you don't even know what their name is, right?

We trace supply chains out to the rest of the world and what we're finding is that companies and whole industries have remained ignorant of their raw materials.  We go as far as we can down into the raw materials. We look at companies that are egregiously engaged in the labor transfer programs.  We document what they've done, and we then say OK who are they selling to?

China has decided that they're going to move the dirty processing of the actual raw materials to the Uyghur region - where they don't care what happens to the environment,  where processes that are outlawed all over the world,  including in other parts of China are still being practiced in the Uyghur region with complete impunity.

What we found was that everyone needs to be looking if you have any raw materials that are that could possibly be processed in China they're moving to that region and you need to be looking at your supply chains to figure that out.   We have the opportunity to do the right thing and say we're not going to just not buy those goods for the

I regularly hear from businesses about the risk.  We need to, you know,  limit our risk, our exposure. We need to limit our financial risk,  our legal risk.  As a human rights researcher,  I think you're talking about the wrong risk.

There are 12 million people in the Uyghur region. 12 million people who every single day are terrified that they will have a sack put over their heads, that they will disappear in the night. People who go to sleep wearing layers of clothes so that when they end up in an internment camp they have underwear.

Three million Uyghur workers work for you.  You may not pay them directly; no one pays them directly. You are profiting from them, and you are talking about your business risk, your legal risk.

I am talking about the risk of participating in a genocide, of financing a genocide, because that's what we're doing, and consumers can only do so much to prevent that. I can only do so much wearing of my used clothes to be able to prevent that.

So I don't want to hear talking about risk to your business,  I like talking about risk to Uyghur people, and until you are doing every single thing you can do to make sure that you change what's happening for the Uyghur people,  or at least make sure that you're not profiting from it , you're doing every single thing you can do,  you should not sleep at night.  I mean it.

For all of that said I think there's some reasons for us to be optimistic. I think that we have together done some pretty incredible things to address this crisis.   It's remarkable as someone who lived in the Uyghur region, who's watched this situation deteriorate over 20 years, to see how people have come together and how quickly we've been able to make change when people finally recognized how urgent this situation is.

Laura T. Murphy is Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University (UK).

 Recent Reports:

"Driving Force: Automotive Supply Chains and Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region"

"Until Nothing is Left: China's Settler Corporation and its Human Rights Violations in the Uyghur Region" (on XPCC)

"Built on Repression: PVC Building Materials' Reliance on Labor and Environmental Abuses in the Uyghur Region"

"Financing & Genocide: Development Finance and the Crisis in the Uyghur Region"

"Laundering Cotton: How Xinjiang Cotton is Obscured in International Supply Chains"

"In Broad Daylight: Uyghur Forced Labour in Global Solar Supply Chains"






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