• Top global fashion brands have profited from forced Uighur labor, more than 180 human-rights groups have alleged in a letter seen by Business Insider.
  • Roughly one in five cotton products sold around the world come from the Uighur heartland, the activists said.
  • Companies “tainted” by forced Uighur or Turkic Muslim labor include including Gap, Adidas, H&M, and Calvin Klein, the activists added.
  • According to The Guardian, China is the world’s biggest supplier of cotton products, and 84% of the country’s cotton output is sourced from Xinjiang.
  • China has subjected the Uighurs to heavy surveillance and arbitrary detention. Authorities are believed to have imprisoned at least 1 million Uighurs and other minorities in so-called “reeducation camps.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Dozens of major global brands are accused of complicity in the mass repression of China’s Uighur Muslim minority by sourcing their supplies of cotton products from factories exploiting the people’s forced labor.

Roughly one in five cotton garments sold around the world contain cotton or yarn from Xinjiang, the heartland of the majority-Muslim Uighur people, a coalition of more than 180 rights group said in a letter published Thursday. Business Insider has seen a copy of the letter.

“It is virtually certain that many of these goods are tainted with forced labor,” the letter said.

According to The Guardian, China is the world’s biggest supplier of cotton products, and 84% of the country’s cotton output is sourced from Xinjiang.

The activists named 38 companies which they say, based on credible news investigations and news reports, have products connected to forced Uighur or Turkic Muslim labor.

They include Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Amazon, Calvin Klein, Gap, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Nike, Patagonia, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria's Secret, and Zara. The full list can be seen here.

"Virtually the entire apparel industry is tainted by forced Uyghur and Turkic Muslim labor," the groups said, using an alternative spelling for Uighurs.

Foto: The entrance of the "Hotan City apparel employment training base" in Xinjiang, pictured in December 2018. Source: Ng Han Guan/AP

The Chinese government has in recent years rounded up at least 1 million Uighurs and other Turkic and Muslim people, and put them in prison-like detention camps. Some have also been sent to factories, where they are forced to work for little to no wage.

The groups say it is the "largest internment of an ethnic and religious minority since World War II."

"The only way brands can ensure they are not profiting from the exploitation is by exiting the region and ending relationships with suppliers propping up this Chinese government system," said Jasmine O'Connor OBE, CEO of Anti-Slavery International, one of the letter's signatories.

Foto: Two protesters wearing masks bearing the flag of East Turkestan, the Uighur heartland, with a Chinese Communist Party flag in the shape of a hand over their mouths. Source: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Many brands now say they are now tracking the issue. Here are some of the responses from big brands named in the letter:

  • Nike said it was "conducting ongoing diligence with our suppliers in China to identify and assess potential risks related to employment of Uighur or other ethnic minorities," according to the BBC.
  • In a statement reported in The Guardian, PVH Corporation, the owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, denied it sourced finished products from Xinjiang. PVH added that it would end all commercial links with factories and mills, or use cotton grown, in Xinjiang in the next year.
  • Ikea told The Independent would stop sourcing cotton from Xinjiang.
  • H&M told The Guardian it had an indirect partnership with a yarn producer operating in Xinjiang, and that it is reviewing its work with it.
  • Adidas claimed to The Guardian that it does not source goods from Xinjiang, and have told suppliers not to do so either.

Badger Sport, one of the companies listed in the activists' letter, had announced last January that it had cut ties with a supplier that reported to be using Uighur labor. Business Insider has contacted Badger Sport for comment on its ties to Xinjiang.

Business Insider has also contacted Gap for comment.

Earlier this week The New York Times reported that China was using forced Uighur labor to make personal protective equipment (PPE) exported to the US and other countries.

On Sunday, China's ambassador to the UK was confronted with damning drone footage purporting to show Uighurs blindfolded, tied up, and ready to be loaded onto trains.

Ambassador Liu Xiaoming did not deny the footage's veracity, which first emerged last year, to the BBC's Andrew Marr, but insisted that it could merely show a regular "transfer of prisoners" in the country.