U.S. companies must stand strong and ensure their supply chains in China are not tainted with forced labor, one human rights advocate told CNA on Friday. 

China has begun blacklisting U.S. companies that stopped sourcing materials from Xinjiang over concerns about forced labor and human rights abuses in the region, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

In response, a commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Nury Turkel, told CNA that companies have “a moral and legal duty to ensure that their supply chains in China are not tainted by Uyghur forced labor.” 

“Otherwise, they risk being complicit in one of the worst atrocities perpetrated in the twenty-first century,” Turkel told CNA. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Swedish clothing retailer H&M was no longer appearing on popular Chinese apps on Wednesday – months after the company announced it would no longer source from Xinjiang, a major global source of cotton. More than 400 H&M locations in the country vanished on apps including those used for directions and ride-hailing services.

Other international brands – including Nike and Adidas – have also faced criticism and boycotts on Chinese social media, but the report said that “only H&M appeared to be the subject of an across-the-board removal from apps.”

An estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs - as well as other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang - are reported to have been detained in camps where forced labor, torture and forced sterilizations are commonplace. A March 2020 report from the U.S Congressional-Executive Commission on China revealed that goods made with forced labor by political, ethnic and religious prisoners in Xinjiang were in supply chains of major U.S. companies, including H&M. 

Some companies have begun announcing they will stop sourcing from Xinjiang. 

“USCIRF commends those U.S. companies that are stepping up and moving beyond their existing and insufficient supply chain due diligence measures, and are paying attention to forced labor and other human rights concerns in the Uyghur region,” Turkel said. 

More in US

“If China is blacklisting these companies for simply upholding their moral and legal obligation, that means we are doing something right in bringing attention to this vital issue,” he said. 

Earlier this week, the United States was joined by Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union in sanctioning Chinese officials for human rights abuses committed in Xinjiang against the Uyghurs. 

A joint statement released March 22 by the foreign ministers of Canada, and the United Kingdom, and the U.S. Secretary of State, said that “China’s extensive program of repression includes severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labour, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilisations, and the concerted destruction of Uyghur heritage.”

“We will continue to stand together to shine a spotlight on China’s human rights violations. We stand united and call for justice for those suffering in Xinjiang,” the statement continued. 

USCIRF commended those sanctions, saying the act “sends an unmistakably clear message to the Chinese Communist Party that the international community will not tolerate its repressive, genocidal policies in the Uyghur region.”