Olympic athletes to wear kit manufactured in ‘slave labour’ region of Xinjiang

The Telegraph, 12 January 2022

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China’s Olympic athletes will be donning uniforms manufactured in Xinjiang, a region mired in controversy over human rights allegations, including forced labour.

More than 2,000 sets of uniforms – including ski suits, gloves, hats and ear muffs – using cotton and camel hair sourced from the region have been delivered to Beijing, according to state media Beijing Daily.

The athletic winter gear is “Xinjiang’s contribution to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics,” Jiang Shicai, a Chinese sports official, was quoted as saying by state media.

Xinjiang is among many human rights concerns that prompted governments including the UK, US, Australia, Canada, Japan, and Lithuania to announce diplomatic boycotts of the Olympics, clouding China’s big splash as host of the event next month. 

More than one million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities have been detained in Xinjiang in ‘re-education’ camps. Foreign governments and politicians have labelled the situation in Xinjiang as “genocide.”

Those released from Xinjiang camps have been put into labour transfer programmes and forced to work. 

Former detainees have recounted to The Telegraph of being made to work 12-hour shifts, pressured to meet impossibly high production quotas, shuttled to and from dormitories where they undergo further political ‘re-education’ and being withheld wages.

China originally denied the existence of detention camps, before finally admitting in 2018 that they existed and were necessary for rehabilitating would-be terrorists. 

Beijing has also continuously rejected allegations of forced labour and systematic erasure of the region’s language, culture and history, despite numerous investigations by academics and journalists, including by The Telegraph.

China is one of the world’s largest producers of cotton – 85 per cent of which comes from Xinjiang. Cotton sourced from the region has been a flashpoint, as many major brands and retailers, including Burberry, Adidas and H&M, found their supply chains incorporated raw materials from the region. 

China forced hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other minorities to pick cotton by hand in Xinjiang, according to a report by a Washington-based think tank. 

In response, some Western clothing brands vowed to ban the use of cotton from the region, which led to outcry in China and calls to boycott those brands. Some Chinese vowed to support only brands that continued to use Xinjiang cotton as a way to show their patriotism. 

In December, US president Joe Biden signed a new bill into law that banned all imports from Xinjiang unless companies could show proof their project weren’t made with forced labour. 

Beijing, which hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008, will become the first city to host both seasons’ games if it’s able to pull off the Winter Games this year despite geopolitical tensions and Covid.