State Imposed Forced Labour

There are different types of State responsibility for cases of forced labour. Forced labour can be imposed directly and deliberately by the State; or the State can fail to prevent forced labour perpetrated by others.

Compulsory labour by citizens, including where national or local authorities force otherwise free citizens to work, is a form of state imposed forced labour. States might also force citizens to work as a method of mobilising labour for economic development. Some countries also deliberately exploit workers under conditions that constitute forced labour.

The United Nations sanctioned to make it illegal of states to specifically permit the use of forced labour:

  • as punishment for the expression of political views,
  • for the purposes of economic development,
  • as a means of labour discipline,
  • as a punishment for participation in strikes,
  • as a means of racial, religious or other discrimination.


State-Imposed Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region (China):

Currently, the government of China is committing serious and large-scale human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Uyghur Region), known to local people as East Turkistan, targeting the Uyghur population and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples. The government is carrying out the arbitrary mass detention and re-education of people.

Furthermore, state-imposed forced labour is happening at alarming rates within this region and across China. This includes the government perpetrating forced labour inside the detention camps and multiple forms of forced labour at workplaces across the region and even in other parts of China.

The Chinese government is using forced labour as a means of social control, creating significant risks of the presence of forced labour at virtually any workplace, industrial or agricultural, in the Uyghur Region. The Chinese government is also transporting Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples to other parts of China, where they are working in factories under forced labour conditions. Reports in 2020 revealed that at least 80,000 Uyghurs or other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples have been transferred to factories (forced labour) across China where they cannot leave, are under constant surveillance, and must undergo “ideological training” to abandon their religion and culture.

Brands and retailers across sectors are profiting from forced labour in and from the Uyghur Region. This is significant in the apparel and garment sectors.

Over 80 percent of China’s cotton is grown in the Uyghur Region (almost 20 percent of global production). Garments made with cotton or yarn spun from the Uyghur Region are used by garment and apparel factories across China and the world. Almost every major apparel brand and retailer selling cotton products is potentially implicated.

The Chinese government is not cooperating with the United Nations or any other human rights organisations. They continue to deny allegations of human rights abuses and are not allowing any inspections of the Uyghur Region. No reliable information can be generated. This means that it is impossible for companies to verify that any workplace in the Uyghur Region is free of forced labour. The only way that companies can know for sure that their supply chains do not contain Uyghur forced labour is to withdraw all production from the region immediately.

We must adopt the assumption that everything produced (whole or partly) in the Uyghur Region has been tainted by forced labour.

The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region, a coalition of civil society, organisations, and trade unions, call on brands and retailers in the apparel and textile sector to agree to take the appropriate actions to end forced labour in their supply chains and exit the uyghur region. Click here to read and learn more.