Independent UN human rights experts have urged companies to closely scrutinize their supply chains following concerns over the alleged detention and forced labour of Muslim Uyghurs in China, according to a statement issued on Monday. 

The experts said they have received information that connected more than 150 Chinese and foreign domiciled companies to serious allegations of human rights abuses against workers from the minority group. 

Well-known brands 

Many businesses and factories implicated in the abusive practices are reportedly operating as part of supply chains of various well-known global brands, they added.  

 “We are deeply concerned by these allegations which, if proven, would constitute grave human rights abuses”, said the members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, who are among eight entities seeking to conduct fact-finding missions to China. 

Uyghur workers have reportedly been subjected to exploitative working and abusive living conditions, according to sources, and hundreds of thousands allegedly have been held in “re-education” facilities.   

Forced to work in factories 

Many have also reportedly been forcibly transferred to work in factories in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, located in northwest China, and elsewhere in the country. 

“Uyghur workers have allegedly been forcibly employed in low-skilled, labor-intensive industries, such as agribusiness, textile and garment, automotive and technological sectors”, said 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.”  

The business of human rights 

The UN experts have written to the Government of China, and to private businesses both inside and outside of the country that may be implicated in the alleged abuses.  

They have also contacted authorities in 13 countries where the businesses are domiciled or headquartered.  These governments have been reminded of their duty to ensure that businesses under their territory or jurisdiction respect all human rights throughout their operations, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

“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. 

He added that the Chinese Government also must create an environment conducive for all businesses operating there “to conduct human rights due diligence in line with international standards.”  

Independent voices 

The 16 experts who issued the statement monitor specific human rights situations covering areas such as freedom of religion or belief, modern slavery, minority issues, human trafficking and cultural rights. 

They were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, which issued their mandates, and are not UN staff, nor do they receive a salary. 

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