UK retailers could have used Uyghur forced-labour cotton – court case

Rahima Mahmut, UK director of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), claims the UK government acted unlawfully by not investigating the sources of such cotton imports, the BBC reports.Lawyers for the WUC said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe UK retailers had benefited from cotton made by Uyghurs held in China while rights groups say Xinjiang’s Muslim Uyghur minority are being persecuted and conscripted for forced labour. 

While government lawyers said it needed more evidence of a link to be able to act, Beijing has strongly denied any abuses. In the first of two days of hearings at the High Court in London, Tom Forster KC, for the WUC and the Global Legal Action Network, said the case was “not remotely hypothetical” but concerned the UK government’s duty to investigate whether “dirty property” was entering the country from major cotton products producer Xinjiang. Sir James Eadie KC, representing the home secretary, HMRC and the National Crime Agency, said the government considered China’s effort “to silence and repress Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang [to be] appalling”. However, he said there needed to be a clear link between “the alleged criminality and its specific product” to investigate whether goods were made in a foreign prison. “In the present context of an investigation in which the Chinese government would be implicated, there is no realistic prospect of police-to-police (or agency-to-agency) co-operation or of evidence being obtained by way of mutual legal assistance from the Chinese authorities, for example,” Sir James said. Forster responded that the claimant was not alleging a crime had been committed, just that there was enough evidence to launch an investigation. 

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