Refusal to address Uyghur forced labour is a betrayal of Europe’s values and history

The international community must take necessary action now, urges Campaign for Uyghurs Executive Director Rushan Abbas
Source: Alamy

By Rushan Abbas

Rushan Abbas is Founder and Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs

13 Dec 2021

On September 11, 2018, my world was shattered. My sister, a Uyghur retired medical doctor living in Urumchi, vanished. My nieces, both US citizens with young children, were plunged into a nightmare from which our family has not emerged. Her forced disappearance at the hands of the Chinese Communist regime came just days after I spoke publicly to condemn the concentration camps in which millions were being imprisoned based on their ethnic and religious identity. My life has been changed entirely ever since.

This pain I feel is shared by millions, as every Uyghur is suffering from the loss of their family to the Chinese Communist Party’s concentration camps, prisons, and forced labour facilities. Have we learned nothing from history? We as the international community are not condemned just for a failure to act, rather, we are actively complicit through our business relationships.

My personal agony over the abduction of my sister, Dr Gulshan Abbas, has been met with the additional pain of realising that foreign corporations, such as Volkswagen, Hugo Boss, Zara, and many more brands which we know and consume widely, are profiting off of the slave labour of those imprisoned as part of this genocide.

75 years ago, some of these same companies were guilty of the same type of crimes, but we no longer have any excuse of ignorance. Is it acceptable for myself, and millions of Uyghur people, to be left wondering if the clothing we wear is produced with our missing family members’ blood, sweat, and tears? If the cheap products we consume on a daily basis are resulting in the complete destruction of an entire ethnic group? My people’s lives are being treated as discardable, meaningless, and even justifiably eliminated by a business environment with only excuses and justifications to offer.

Europe is facing a moral crisis and must respond. It is clear that we cannot depend on corporations to make the right decision, as many have ignored engagement attempts from human rights groups, or have outright admitted that the Chinese market is too important to consider addressing their normalisation of slavery.

As was recently highlighted in a program I was honoured to participate in from the European Foundation for Democracy and the US Mission to the European Union, we must ensure that the EU 's draft directive on corporate due diligence and corporate accountability is appropriately applied to the Uyghur region. Just this week, the United States House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and the valuable concept of rebuttable presumption is much needed as we confront the problem in European supply chains.

Together, we must recognise the burden we bear as students of the mass internment of an ethnic group, alongside crematoria, and modernised slavery, among other abuses so horrific they draw immediate historic parallels.

On December 9th, an independent people’s tribunal in the UK, headed by Sir Geoffrey Nice, determined that the PRC was guilty of genocide against the Uyghurs. With this judgement, the CCP can no longer hide behind a cloud of confusion, nor can the rest of the world feign ignorance. The witnesses and experts have done their jobs exceedingly well. We, the Uyghurs, met the burden of proof. Now, it's the responsibility of the international community, the UN and EU to take the necessary action against the CCP.

We have seen the brutal consequences of life under authoritarian or communist regimes, and we will find that the present horrific reality of the Uyghurs will be our own if we do not act to take the clear moral stance that slavery in connection with genocide is unacceptable, and business with such companies that have ties like these are incompatible with democratic, liberal values in Europe.

Our failure to do so will have enormous implications for the future of democracy, and for humanity itself.

This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group


China Uyghurs