A protester outside the White House urges the United States to take action to stop the suppression of the Uyghurs and other Turkish peoples on August 14, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images News | Getty Images
A Chinese dissident has targeted three American companies after a report alleged they had campaigned for the US Congress to weaken a bill banning forced labor imports in China’s Xinjiang province.
Citing unnamed congressional staff and lobbying records, the New York Times on Sunday reported that the bill known as the Uighur Prevention of Forced Labor Act has been put under pressure by multinational corporations, including Nike, Apple and Cokeas well as corporate groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce.
The law aims to tackle alleged human rights violations against Muslim minorities in far west China. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2018 accused China At least 1 million Uighurs and Turks imprisoned in “so-called anti-extremism” camps that deal with “political and cultural indoctrination”.
In a statement to CNBC, the Chinese embassy in the United States denied that it used forced labor.
“Some US politicians have invented disinformation about so-called ‘forced labor’ in order to restrict and suppress relevant parties and companies in China and to curb China’s development,” said Hua Chunying, spokesman for the Chinese State Department.
“The US practice violates international trade rules and market economy principles, destroys global industrial chains and supply chains, and harms the interests of businesses and consumers in various countries, including the United States,” the statement said. All ethnic groups in Xinjiang choose their occupations at their will and sign “employment contracts” of their own accord in accordance with the law on the basis of equality. “
The Forced Labor Act was supported by both parties on Capitol Hill and passed by 406 votes to 3. However, lobbyists have reportedly tried to water down its requirements as they fear disrupting supply chains in China. The bill has not yet passed the US Senate, but has enough support, the New York Times reported.
Banished Chinese dissident Badiucao who was in September Awarded the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent, went to its 74,000 followers on Twitter Thursday to post a series of satirical images targeting Nike, Apple and Coca-Cola in pursuit of their alleged efforts to weaken the bill.
Badiucao, who speaks on the phone to CNBC from Australia under a pseudonym, hopes the campaign will raise awareness of the persecution of Uyghurs and encourage consumers to learn more about the brands they buy from.
“It is extremely disappointing to see these big companies trying to lobby them to block them. I think that is really despicable and unacceptable,” Badiucao said.
“Ultimately, customers will determine how the company reacts because they are only doing this to grant our request, so power still rests with the consumer,” he said.
In a statement to CNBC Thursday, Nike denied lobbying for changes to the Uyghur Prevention of Forced Labor Act or other forced labor laws, saying it had “long prioritized constructive discussions on human rights issues” with members of Congress. The company said it does not source products from the Uyghur Autonomous Region in Xinjiang and its contract suppliers do not source textiles there.
Coca-Cola said it bans any form of forced labor in its supply chain and uses independent third-party audits to enforce its policies. A plant in Xinjiang that supplies sugar to a local bottling plant “successfully completed an audit in 2019,” the company said on Thursday.
Coca-Cola added that no goods are imported into the US from this facility called COFCO Tunhe or the Xinjiang region.
Apple, which was also targeted by dissident artist Badiucao, did not immediately respond to CNBC requests for comment.
One of Badiucao’s satirical images tries to contrast Nike’s endorsement of the “Take a Knie” initiative by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Apple image mimics the company’s iPhone advertising, but changes the product name to “iChain”.
Badiucao suggested that businesses in general are able to “take advantage of this information black hole created by the Chinese government,” with consumers often unaware of local events due to the government’s control over information from the region.
A Nike ad starring soccer player Colin Kaepernick is seen in New York City on September 8, 2018.
Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images
The US government issued one on Wednesday Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) bans cotton and cotton products, one of the largest producers in China.
Badiucao’s collection also targets clothing brand Zara, owned by Spanish company Inditex, and Japanese company Muji, which reportedly has Xinjiang cotton in their supply chains. Clothing brands around the world have been accused by human rights groups of establishing links to cotton in camps in Xinjiang.
Inditex said it was a “zero tolerance” approach to forced labor and has guidelines in place to make sure it doesn’t happen anywhere in their supply chain.
“We are aware of a number of such reports alleging social and labor misconduct in various supply chains among Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China and other regions that are very worrying,” the company said in a statement.
“After an internal investigation,” the company said, “we can confirm that Inditex does not have any trade relationship with any factory in Xinjiang.”
Muji said it does not tolerate any form of forced labor or human trafficking in its supply chains, and an independent third-party review has found no “material violations” of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
“In addition, all of our cotton and yarns have received international organic certification, which has been confirmed by a third-party organization, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). This requires compliance with the working conditions set by the International Labor Organization (ILO).” Said a spokesman to CNBC.
– –CNBC’s Christine Wang contributed to this report.