A Finnish supplier became the latest to sever ties with companies allegedly supporting forced labor plans in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) after when the country ceases to supply raw materials to one of the largest manufacturers of viscose binder in the region.
On March 29, Stora Enso, the world’s largest supplier of pulp and paper, stopped supplying the raw materials needed to make viscose – a rayon fiber similar to cotton but synthetically produced from cellulose or wood pulp – for China’s Zhongtai Chemical Company Limited. From 2017 to 2020, Zhongtai imported about US $ 367 million of raw materials from Finland.
Zhongtai Chemical is a labor-intensive state-owned enterprise closely affiliated with the paramilitary Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps, or Bingtuan, and is a major supplier of binder fibers to cotton and textile mills. of China throughout XUAR.
Satu Härkönen, Stora Enso’s head of communications, confirmed to RFA’s Uyghur Service that the company has stopped supplying viscose raw materials to XUAR companies.
“We have a business relationship there, but we have decided to leave a single field of business that is global,” she said, adding that Stora Enso will not speak to the media until the date. April 23.
But she stressed that the reason for this decision was “normal market” and “unrelated to any country” in particular.
“We have been trading… pulp globally since 2013… and [this was a] Strategic decision to withdraw from a global business area, it is not related [specific] the market, ”she said.
She declined to comment on the human rights violations reports in XUAR, despite the fact that Stora Enso’s decision was announced at a time of increasing action on the issue of Uyghur forced labor globally.
In recent days and weeks, well-known brands such as Nike, H&M and Adidas have pledged to publicly stop supplying cotton from XUAR, after which they are publicly threatened by the Chinese government and become the target of a boycott. of people all over China.
Camp and forced labor
Authorities in XUAR are believed to have detained as many as 1.8 million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in a large network of detention centers since early 2017. While Beijing was initially covered Recognizing the existence of these camps, China this year changed its strategy and began to describe “Boarding Schools” facilities that provide vocational training for the Uyghurs, discourage the radicalization process and help protect the country from terrorism.
But the RFA and other media reports show that those in the detention camps were detained against their will and subjected to political manipulation, often faced with brutal mistreatment. the hands of their supervisors, and enduring poor diet and unhygienic conditions in often overcrowded facilities.
As international monitoring of the situation in XUAR grows – including the US government and some Western parliaments designating it as part of the genocide policy in recent months – Beijing increasingly “graduate” detainees to workplaces in large part of forced labor, often in the region’s main cotton industry.
The refusal of international brands to use the so-called “Xinjiang cotton” is having a serious impact on China’s textile and cotton enterprises in XUAR, where forced labor is the production base. As a result, the Chinese government has recently begun to threaten well-known global brands that have pledged not to use Xinjiang cotton. raw materials in the production of textiles and garments.
An estimated 20% of global viscous fiber products are produced in XUAR. Zhongtai alone will produce about 730,000 tons of viscose in 2020.
Viscose is the only chemical fiber produced by Zhongtai. Reports in Chinese media show that the company has attracted Uyghur workers through its labor transfer system. In 2019, they relocated 79 Uyghur workers from the Keriye (Yutian) district of Hotan province (in Chinese) to a domestic factory after relocating 84 workers from the county in October 2018.
Zhongtai employs approximately 30,000 to 40,000 workers in factories in the XUAR cities of Aral (Ala’er), Korla (Kuerle), Toksun (Tuokexun), Sanji (Changji) and the regional capital Urumqi. It is still unclear how many of those workers are Uyghurs forced to work through state-run programs, and how many are regular employees.
On March 25, the Better Cotton Initiative, a global industry watchdog with nearly 2,000 members across the entire global cotton supply chain, announced that it was banning the use of Xinjiang cotton. Previous reports indicated that Xinjiang Zhongtai Textile Company, a subsidiary of Zhongtai Chemical, was engaged in the trade of Xinjiang cotton and cotton products. According to Chinese media reports, Zhongtai Chemical currently has two options: find a different source of raw materials or stop producing binder fibers entirely.
Supply chain cuts
But while the global attention to abuses in XUAR has led to some corporate actions, observers argue that targeted restrictive measures like these are not yet possible. Ending the persecution in XUAR.
Asiye Abdulehed, a Uyghur activist and analyst in the Netherlands, told RFA that the situation will only benefit the Uyghurs after the supply chain and other links with China are completely cut off.
“An embargo would have some strength [to force change], but given the current situation in China, [we have to keep in mind] Our cotton exports from our hometown account for more than 87% of China’s cotton exports, she said. “This means that most of the cotton in China comes from our homeland.”
Abdulehed also emphasized that global supply chains are closely linked with abuses in the region.
“Because our cotton products from our homeland are now being sold all over the world, they are linked in a chain with factories all over the world, famous and unknown factories,” she said. come.
“If the international community really wants to overcome this situation, to prevent Uyghur slave labor, we have to clarify the entire supply chain of China and to what extent. [the use of forced labor] has grown. The supply chain spins like a spider web. Only when the supply chain and supply circles are broken will the situation that is favorable for the Uighurs and a blow to China will take shape.
Jilil Kashgary’s report for the Uyghur Service of the RFA. Translated by Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.