What is the Uyghur Genocide and how is the fashion and textile industry complicit? - Ethical Made Easy

What is the Uyghur Genocide and how is the fashion and textile industry complicit?

Over the past several months you may have heard or seen the mention of China's Uyghur Genocide in the news. Interestingly it doesn't come up too often, especially in mainstream news, but it's a tragic situation that deserves immediate and significant attention. Unsurprisingly, it's also been linked to the fashion and textile industry *sigh*.

What is the Uyghur Genocide and how is the fashion and textile industry complicit?

Written by Jasmine Mayhead.

Written by Caitlyn Spanner.

Over the past several months you may have heard or seen the mention of China’s Uyghur Genocide in the news. Interestingly it doesn’t come up too often, especially in mainstream news, but it’s a tragic situation that deserves immediate and significant attention. Unsurprisingly, it’s also been linked to the fashion and textile industry *sigh*. You might be wondering who an Uyghur is and how on earth we’re experiencing a genocide in 2020, so we thought we’d break it down to ensure this issue is understood by all of us (not just those who follow specific media sites).

Who is an Uyghur?
Pronounced we-gur, Uyghurs (or Uighurs) are Turkic-speaking Muslims from the Central Asian region, most of whom reside in Xinjiang in the country’s north-west but also neighbouring countries, including Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Xinjiang translates to ‘new frontier’, suggesting the Uyghurs have autonomy, but similar to Tibet, Xinjiang is a tightly controlled region of China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). There are approximately 3000 Uyghurs living here in Australia.

What is happening to them?
The history of Uyghurs and the Xinjiang province dates back hundreds of years but more recently there has been a rise in sophisticated surveillance technology and police numbers deployed in the area by the government. This has led to the introduction of involuntary labour camps where between 1 and 2 million Uyghur people are being imprisoned.

A leaked document details the personal stories of hundreds of individuals who have been manipulated into repenting. A 2018 ABC investigation found 28 detention camps had expanded across Xinjiang by more than 2 million square metres, “in the past three months alone, they’ve grown by 700,000 square metres – that’s about the size of 35 Melbourne Cricket Grounds”.

The Associated Press details that the state was subjecting minority women to pregnancy checks, forced implantation of intra-uterine devices, sterilisation and abortion, which led 27 countries to file a letter with the UN saying: “We call on China to uphold its national laws and international obligations and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief in Xinjiang and across China.

“We call also on China to refrain from the arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement of Uyghurs and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang.”

How is the fashion industry complicit?
“Tragedies like the Uyghur genocide often feel far away. But in our globalised fashion system, the atrocities being faced by Uyghur people are immediate. They’re woven into our t-shirts, bedding and jeans, and they’re hanging in our wardrobes,” reads a recent Facebook post from one of our favourite ethical fashion platforms Fashion Revolution.

Perhaps the most infuriating but unsurprising part is how the fashion and textile industry is complicit in this major issue. A coalition of more than 180 global human rights groups states that “1 in 5 cotton garments in the global apparel market are tainted by forced labour from the Uyghur Region”, and “17+ global industries – from agriculture to toys – are implicated in Uyghur forced labour”.

Fashion Revolution believes that calling on big brands to cut ties with Uyghur cotton is shining a light on the need for transparency, as many brands are unable to trace their cotton suppliers. Fashion Revolution’s 2021 Fashion Transparency Index states that “while it is encouraging to see that a growing number of big brands (11%) disclose at least a small selection of their raw material suppliers, up from 7% in 2020, only 5% publish what percentage of raw materials suppliers are disclosed.”


As of 2022.
The atrocities being committed against the Uyghurs are ongoing, and countries including the US, the UK, Canada and Australia have joined together for a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

We wouldn’t leave you with this devastating news without offering a glimmer of hope for change. The Coalition has written a call to action, which brands can sign, to commit to exiting the Uyghur Region and prevent use of forced labour of Uyghur and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: your voice counts and you have the power to tell fashion brands that you want them to sign this call to action—sliding into their DMs is a great start. While you’re there, ask them who made their clothes and who their third tier suppliers are. Let’s hold them accountable to ensure this unethical labour can no longer fund the devastating Uygher genocide.

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