If you follow the news, you have probably heard about the situation of the Uighurs in China. As an ethical fashion editor, I think it's important to talk about them as they are exploited by certain fast-fashion brands.
Officially, China is composed of 55 ethnic minorities, including Uighurs and Hans (majority ethnicity representing 92%). The Uighurs are of Muslim origin and live in the Xinjiang region.
In 2013, attacks by Uighur nationalist militants shake China. After that, the Chinese authorities began to deport the Uighurs in the name of the fight against terrorism. The aim is to repopulate the Xinjiang region with other ethnic groups, such as the Hans. In the 20thcentury, the Uyghurs represented 75% of the population of this province. In the early 2010's, their proportion rose to 45% while that of the Hans increased to 40%.
Since 2017, thousands of Uighur prisoners have been rounded up in secret internment camps and forced to work in the factories of world-famous brands. They are forced to work in factories for very low wages or no pay.
China presents these camps as "centres of personal training" but they are camps of political re-education. The Uighurs have to renounce their culture by learning Mandarin and moving away from the Islamist cult. Several sources have highlighted the actions committed in these camps: torture sessions, rapes, deprivation of food and forced sterilisation of women. They live under the constant control of the Communist Party. The authorities have also set up a surveillance system via smartphones, facial recognition and DNA collection.
Rémi Castets (director of the Chinese studies department at Bordeaux Montaigne University) explains that the aim of the Chinese government is to homogenise the population at the cultural level and to impose its national model on ethnic minorities. Why ? Because he considers that the Uighur minority has a desire for independence from the majority ethnic group in China.
Link with the fashion industry
As you probably know, the fashion industry exploits a large number of living beings all over the world. But what is the link with the Uighur minority? In reality, fast-fashion is accused of profiting from the forced labour of this minority. Moreover, the China is the biggest cotton producer. It is likely that a large number of cotton garments are made from Uighur forced labour. This may therefore increase the exploitation of human beings and make certain countries that receive and use this cotton complicit.
In July, 180 human rights organisations called on ready-to-wear brands to sever their relations with suppliers linked to the camps. The MEP Raphaël Glucksmann talks a lot about this issue on his Instagram account. He fights to get 76 brands of fashion (C&A, Gap, Muji, Nike, Puma, Uniqlo...), electronics (Apple, Sony, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia...), or automobiles (BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar...) to cut off their commercial relations with the factories where the Uighurs are held. Some brands have already accepted but the fight continues.
What to do and how to help?
There are many ways to get involved in the Uighurs' cause. First of all, to be informed precisely on the subject is important in order to understand the ins and outs of it. The involvement of the fashion industry is proven so the boycott of some brands may be a solution.
In addition, several initiatives have been created. For example, the "blue square" on Instagram launched by Pierre Brussière. By publishing a blue image on your profile with a specific caption, you show your support to the Uighurs. This helps to draw attention to this social network, as was done with the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
As mentioned above, Raphaël Glucksmann is trying to raise awareness of this cause among citizens and multinationals. In a recent Instagram post, he invites each user to tag three brands to attract their attention. Depending on the number of participants, this initiative can bear fruit in the long term, so don't hesitate to take a look at it.
Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have launched petitions for the human rights of Uighurs. Being a signatory to these petitions is a good way to take part in this cause. You can find a short list at the end of this article.
To finish, talking about it around you to raise awareness among as many people as possible about this subject in order to provoke a butterfly effect is already good. Every little action counts.
I hope you found this article useful and that you are interested in the subject. See you soon.
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List of petitions:
Da Sois, J. (2020). Ouïghours en Chine : tout comprendre sur la situation. CNews. Récupéré en ligne le 20 octobre 2020 du site https://www.cnews.fr/monde/2020-07-30/tout-comprendre-sur-la-situation-des-ouighours-en-chine-983352
Wattecamps, M. (2020). Ouïghours : les marques vont-elles réellement s’engager ? Au féminin. Récupéré en ligne le 19 octobre 2020 du site https://www.aufeminin.com/news-societe/ouighours-en-dehors-du-carre-bleu-que-faire-s4017792.html