China is running forced labour camps in the remote province of Xinjiang — and retailers like Ikea, Target, Cotton On, Jeanswest and H&M are embroiled in the scandal

An ethnic Uighur woman holds her child in a local shop on June 28, 2017. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
  • An investigation by the ABC’s Four Corners program has unveiled evidence of detained Uighur minority group members being forced into factory labour in China.
  • The investigation named retailers Target, Cotton On, Jeanswest, Ikea, Dangerfield and H&M as sourcing cotton for their products from the troubled Xinjiang province.
  • Business Insider Australia has confirmed Jeanswest, Cotton On and Target are investigating their suppliers in the wake of the report and has sought comment from the remaining three retailers.

China’s persecution of the Uighur people has been well documented in recent years with as many as one million members of the mostly Muslim minority group being detained.

Shocking footage leaked in November 2018 showed the prison-liked conditions in the province of Xinjiang where many Uighurs are detained, and the increasing surveillance of the minority group by faraway authorities in Beijing. And in February, Business Insider reported that China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ may be a cause of the escalating oppression.

Now, the ABC’s Four Corners program has revealed new evidence of detained Uighurs being forced into factory labour, potentially producing textiles used by global brands including a number of Australian retailers.

The investigation by the public broadcaster has uncovered instances of detained Uighurs being funnelled from so-called re-education camps to involuntary labour in factories in Xinjiang.

The report names six retailers operating in Australia that source cotton from the troubled region — Target, Cotton On, Jeanswest, Dangerfield, Ikea and H&M.

A spokesperson for the Cotton On Group confirmed to Business Insider Australia that one of the Xinjiang-based factory owners named in the report, Litai Textiles, is a sub-contractor to one of its “direct suppliers” in the region and it is now conducting an investigation of its own.

“Having traced and audited 100% of our direct suppliers, our program continues to extend its focus to auditing subsequent tiers of our supply chain, including raw materials, fabric and inputs subcontractors, such a Litai Textiles,” the spokesperson said.

“The Cotton On Group takes a zero tolerance approach to any form of modern slavery, including forced labour.”

Target also responded to a request for comment, with a spokesperson from the retailer confirming to Business Insider Australia that one of its direct suppliers uses a “small amount of cotton yarn” from a mill owned by Huafu, a Xinjiang textiles manufacturer named in the report.

“Target is conducting a review of the situation,” the spokesperson said. “As part of our Ethical Sourcing Code of Conduct Target Australia take any breaches of this Code very seriously, this includes any allegations of forced labour.”

A Jeanswest spokesperson told Business Insider Australia it does not use any “cut make and trim factories” that operate in the province but that it “cannot rule out” that it hasn’t sourced cotton yarn from Xinjiang.

Ikea and Dangerfield have confirmed to the ABC they source cotton from the province of Xinjiang, but both said they’re not aware of any forced labour among subcontractors. Business Insider Australia has sought a response from Ikea, Dangerfield and H&M.

In addition to these brands, the ABC investigation named a number of Australian brands that source cotton from China and may or may not be using problematic producers in Xinjiang, including Big W, the Just Group (which owns Just Jeans, Dotti, Jacqui E, Peter Alexander, Portmans and Jay Jays) and the Noni B group (which owns Rockmans, Katies, Liz Jordan, W.Lane, Table Eight, Rivers, Millers, Crossroads and Autograph).

The investigation — which will air on ABC TV at 8:30pm AEST on Monday — unearthed personal stories of Uighurs subjected to shocking conditions in Xinjiang.

One Uighur woman was reportedly forced to clean the factory when her poor eyesight precluded her from intricate embroidery, while another was subjected to phone and body searches when arriving and leaving for forced work sewing gloves, the ABC reported.

Unemployed people and farmers are also being forced into work against their will, the report indicated.

German academic Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, told the ABC the stories uncovered by its investigation are actually part of a “huge scheme … of involuntary labour” by the Chinese authorities.