Uyghurs and Fashion: Are We All Complicit?

The humanitarian crisis going on in China has been getting more attention lately. I feel like it’s now the time to talk about it on this blog.

Who are the Uyghurs and what’s happening in China?

The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group originating from East China. They are predominantly Muslim while cultural reflections of Islam varies between different regions. They are one of the 55 officially recognized minorities in China and mostly located in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. Other countries with significant Uyghur populations after China are Kazakhstan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, respectively.

Uyghur politician and historian Muhammad Amin Bughra writes that the history of Uyghurs dates back to 6400 years ago while the official Chinese view asserts that Uyghurs in Xinjiang migrated from Mongolia during the ninth century and became a main wing then.

In 2018, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said that “from tens of thousands to upwards of a million Uyghurs” were detained and put into re-education camps in Xinjiang, China. United Nations human rights experts called for China to close all those camps and release the detainees. However, China claimed that all of this were rumours made up by those who were against China and her policies in Xinjiang. China basically denied all the allegations but claimed that they only sent people who were involved in minor crimes to vocational training centres.

x An Article from 2018 – Detention of Uighurs must end, UN tells China, amid claims of prison camps

However, the rumours have been increasing since then. Not rumours but research and report by independent organizations to be exact. China has detained many claiming that they have committed crimes or supported East Turkestan independence movement (or simply because they’ve reached an overseas website!). There is forced separation, torture and cultural sterilisaiton.

What is the link between our clothes and this crisis?

Fashion is made possible at all stages by living ad breathing human beings. That’s why the question #whomademyclothes will always be relevant. As for this humanitarian crisis in particular, a coalition of more than 180 human rights groups claimed that many of the world’s biggest fashion brands are working with ateliers/factories etc that use forced labour of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. These brands source cotton and yarn extensively from Xinjiang. According to the coalition, as many as one in five cotton products sold across the world are tainted with forced labour and human rights violations occurring there (source).

China is the largest cotton producer in the world, with 84% of its cotton coming from the Xinjiang region. Cotton and yarn produced in Xinjiang are used extensively in other key garment-producing countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam. Xinjiang cotton and yarn are also used in textiles and home furnishings (source). The coalition has published a brand list that contains the brands who source from the region and indirectly support the forced labour and human rights violations occuring there.

We need to hold these brands accountable and ask them to change their behaviour. Our action means so much more now.

If you’d like to reach the full brand list that the coalition has published, click here.

Another great article on the issue is Mulan, Uyghurs And The (Un)Ethics Of Fashion.

The image is from Fashion Act Now.

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