Aussie’s plea as Target, Cotton On probe forced labour

MAJOR Australian retailers have launched an investigation into whether cotton used in their products is sourced from forced labour camps in China.

Cotton On and Target Australia are reviewing their relationships with suppliers in Xinjiang, China, following a report by the ABC's Four Corners program.

Target, Cotton On, Jeanswest, Dangerfield, Ikea and H&M all source cotton from Xinjiang, the program has revealed, where in 2017 China's Communist Party began to detain and brainwash members of the Uyghur Muslim minority.

The Cotton On Group sources cotton from Xinjiang-based subcontractors, Litai Textiles.

Asked if Cotton On was confident the cotton yarn it sourced from Litai Textiles was not being produced by people working against their will, the company told Four Corners it was not aware of the issues raised and would now undertake an investigation.

The company also confirmed a staff member last year visited Litai Textiles' Korla factory, which is located just six kilometres away from a massive re-education camp in the town.

Target Australia told Four Corners that one of its direct suppliers is using a small amount of cotton yarn from a mill owned by a company called Huafu Fashion Co in Xinjiang.

In May, a worker at a Huafu mill in the city of Aksu told the Wall Street Journal she had come to the mill from a secret training program which removed her "extremist thoughts".

In a call, the manager of the Huafu factory denied to Four Corners that his company used any form of involuntary labour.

Target Australia said it was "conducting a review of the situation."

It comes amid a desperate call for help from the sister of Melbourne woman Gulnur Idreis, 34, that is trapped in a forced labour camp in Xinjiang.

Dilnur, 38, and her husband were both arrested and sent to camps in February 2017.

She said that in May she was sent from the camp to work against her will in a factory and was separated from her husband. She still doesn't know where he is.

During a conversation on Whatsapp, Dilbur scribbled notes to her younger sister urging her to take a risk by sharing her story with the world.

Cotton On says it would undertake an investigation into the issues raised by Four Corners. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Cotton On says it would undertake an investigation into the issues raised by Four Corners. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

"'Please speak up for me. Stand for me. Never give up.'"

"She wrote this down and showed it to me and I saw it," Gulnur told Four Corners.

Gulnur quickly took screenshots of the notes that described what was happening to her sister.

"660 people are brought in shackled and handcuffed and it is big," she said.

"They have no choice, they will end up in jail, if they say something.

"Tell them it has been two years, (I have) not been released.

Using the screenshot of her employee ID card, Four Corners tracked down the company.

According to the program it appears to be a textile company called Urumqi Shengshi Huaer Culture Technology Co, based in a technology park 30km north of Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi.

The Chinese embassy did not respond to Four Corner's repeated requests to visit Xinjiang.

Australia has committed to pursuing China over its mass detention of more than one million Muslim Uyghurs.

The report comes as Canberra co-signed a letter to the UN Human Rights Council last week, urging Beijing to dismantle its arbitrary detention scheme.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne says the correspondence signed by 22 nations reflects an increasing focus on the so-called "re-education camps" in far west China.

"We've said very consistently that we are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the use of detention facilities," Senator Payne told ABC Radio National today.

"Those concerns have been raised with China regularly, including directly be me in my visit last year.

Foreign Affairs Minster Marise Payne, right. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian
Foreign Affairs Minster Marise Payne, right. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian

"We are concerned about the forced detention … of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, and we are very concerned about the underlying tensions that exist there."

Beijing has retaliated by accusing countries such as Australia of "smearing" China and interfering in its internal affairs.

China's mass detention of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minorities appears to be the largest internment of people on the basis of religion since the Holocaust.

At least 10 Australian permanent residents have been detained in Xinjiang including a two-year-old boy who is an Australian citizen, according to Four Corners.

Senator Payne says the government raises cases with Chinese officials as they come to light, and provides consular assistance to a number of Uyghurs who are Australian citizens.

"But if they're not Australian citizens, we don't have an entitlement to consular access," she said.

"China doesn't provide consular access to dual nationals unless they have actually entered China on their Australian passports, so that does add to the complexity.

"But we continue to raise these issues and to seek information and access."

Australia has for several years requested diplomatic visits to the Xinjiang province.

"Those requests as far as I am aware have not been granted," Senator Payne said.

"We will continue to do so and continue to press our concerns."

The investigation, Tell the World, airs at 8.30pm on ABC TV and iview.

- with AAP

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