The repression of the Uyghur Muslims in China has made headlines across the globe. Much of the population has been imprisoned by the Chinese Government in forced labour camps, and subjected to torture and population control.
These labour camps are known to be in cotton picking and textile manufacturing areas, and there have been calls for the world to boycott Chinese goods in protest at the treatment of the Uyghurs. Some of the brands we work with use Chinese factories, and a few customers have mentioned to us that they will not buy anything produced in China.
China’s treatment of the Uyghurs
The Uyghurs live in the province of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in North Western China, with their own language (similar to Turkish), and they are predominantly Muslim. The Chinese government has restricted the practicing of Islam in the province, and limited the number of mosques. The Uyghur population are monitored with apps that trace their movements, monitor their electricity use and even the movement of their front doors.
Government ‘re-education camps’ have been created, ostensibly to help the Uyghurs learn Mandarin and integrate with the local population. However, people who have escaped the camps say they were held against their will, and have been subjected to physical and mental torture, sexual exploitation, rape and enforced sterilisation and abortions, and young children have been separated from their families. 384 forced labour camps have been identified, some of which are in cotton picking and textile manufacturing areas.
The Chinese government claims these reports are untrue, but the United Nations has said that they are breaching every code in the Genocide Convention with their treatment of the Uyghur population.
In light of these abuses, should the rest of the world be boycotting Chinese goods?
Should we join the boycott?
Boycotts often negatively affect the people they are intended to help through loss of wages, reduced hours and loss of jobs. It’s also very difficult to effectively boycott Chinese goods completely, as so many of the raw materials for goods that are produced elsewhere originate in China.
Although there is no certain way of knowing if the factories that produce the goods you are purchasing are complicit in forced labour or poor treatment, you can buy from brands that have close relationships with their factories in China, and who frequently audit them to ensure workers are protected and treated well.
Australian brand Elk work with several Chinese factories, including Tongxiang Jimmy Fashions who produce garments in the factory without outsourcing, thus guaranteeing a safe supply chain. The factory mainly employs women and is an SME with 80 employees.
By buying from brands that have closes relationships with their factories, and who ensure that their workers' rights are protected, you can help to support sustainable growth in China.