IRISH shoppers are buying clothes made from cotton produced by forced labor in China, human rights groups have warned.
Several well-known fashion and sports brands are named in documents presented to the Revenue Commissioners in recent days.
The groups have called on Revenue to impose a comprehensive ban on imports of cotton products from China’s main cotton-growing region, which is also home to the oppressed Uyghur people.
If Revenue fails to act, the groups say a case will be taken to the European Court of Justice citing member states’ obligation to uphold EU law that prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labor or mandatory.
The move comes alongside legal action in the UK citing local authorities’ failure to investigate imports of Chinese cotton under the Foreign Prison Made Goods Act and the Proceeds of Crime Act.
This follows a law introduced in the United States last year that presumes all goods produced in the Uyghur region are made using forced labor and prohibits their importation unless the contrary can be proven.
Xinjiang, the traditional homeland of the Uighurs who call it East Turkestan, is the source of 85% of China’s huge cotton industry which produces around 20% of the world’s supply.
Human rights groups have documented the detention of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in camps where they are used as forced labor in industry.
The Galway and London-based Global Legal Action Group (GLAN) and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) say they presented Revenue last Friday with “overwhelming evidence” that textiles and goods from the region are ending up in Irish shops.
Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn, Director of GLAN, said EU and international human rights law prohibit forced labor and Ireland had a duty, as a signatory to both, to uphold this prohibition. .
“It is remarkable that Ireland, the UK and the EU more generally are widely open to imports of goods known to be produced by forced labour,” he said.
“The Uighur situation highlights the need for urgent action and a strong legal framework capable of excluding these controversial assets.”
The Chinese government disputes any abuses against Uyghurs and has described the camps as training centers aimed at de-radicalizing extremists, teaching about livelihoods and alleviating poverty.
However, a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights last August concluded that “serious human rights violations” were occurring in the region.
The first of the UK cases is due to be heard in the High Court on October 25-26.
Under the Foreign Prisons Made Goods Act, it is illegal to import goods made by people incarcerated overseas, but the law has never been cited in a case like this before.
The Proceeds of Crime Act prohibits the purchase of property that is the proceeds of crime and GLAN and WUC will argue that the purchase of forced labor cotton is such an offence.
In their letter to the tax commissioners here, they say that European and international law explicitly recognizes the prohibition of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labor as a fundamental human right.
“Ireland is obliged to enforce its import laws in a way that respects this ban,” they say.