The outdoor industry is not free of fast fashion or forced labor. Nearly every piece of gear; from our hiking boots, running shorts, ice axes to our tents, may be tied to unethical practices. We often like to think that just because a company is “outdoorsy” that they must care for the environment and other social justice issues. Sadly, this is far from the truth. (For a more in-depth looking on exactly what fast fashion is and why it is so problematic for people and the planet, check out my blog post HERE.) So, how exactly are the outdoor industry and other fashion companies, violating human rights? I've got two words for you; forced labor.
In the XinJiang region of northwestern China, forced labor and human rights violations are being “perpetuated on millions of Uighur people” (The Guardian).
Who are the Uighur people?
About 11 million Uighur and other Muslim minorities live in the autonomous region of Xinjiang in China and has been under Chinese control since 1949 (Vox). Many Uighurs still identify with their homeland by its previous name of East Turkestan. However, the Chinese government claims that the Uighur people hold extremist and separatist views that are a threat to national security.
In recent months there has been increased global outrage for the atrocities being committed on the Uighur people. This includes torture, forced separation, and compulsory sterilization of Uighur women (The Guardian). Experts estimate as many as 3 million people have disappeared into the "reeducation camps” in China. The Chinese government denied these camps even existed but have since stopped pretending that they aren’t real. These camps are much more like prisions than reeducation camps. Back in February 2020, a 137 page leaked spreadsheet from Karakax County in Xinjiang revealed how Uighur families are being tracked by authories, some being as young 16 years old. Actions that would often catch the attention of authorities included “obtaining a passport (whether or not they traveled), praying regularly…wearing a beard…and systematically trying to stop Uighur women from having children under the threat of internment if they violated the rules” (Vox). So, how does this relate to the outdoor and fashion industry? China is the largest cotton producer in the world, with “84% of its cotton coming from the Xinjiang region” (The Guardian). The cotton and yarn that is produced there is also used extensively in other garment producing countries such as Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. Global fashion brand sources estimate that as many as “one in five cotton products sold across the world are tainted with forced labor and human rights violations occurring here” (The Guardian). The coalition published an “extensive list of brands” it believes are continuing source from this region. Just some of these include: Adidas, L.L.Bean, Nike, Patagonia, Puma, Summit Resources International
Again, this is just scratching the surface of companies that are complicit with exploiting individuals for profit. We must remember that EVERY step of production matters. It matters where the textiles are sourced from, it matters the working conditions of the individuals making the gear, it matters whether or not they are being forced into labor, it matters if they are paid a living wage, it matters the environmental impact of making these items, EVERYTHING MATTERS. So, what can we do to help?
Vote with your dollar: Write to brands that have ties to forced labor and demand they cut ties with this region. Focus on buying used gear or gear from brands with the highest ethical standards.
Use your voice: sign petitions, such as THIS ONE.
Share: use social media with the #whomademygear to raise awareness and spread the word on this issue. Help educate others and direct them on further steps to take.
Support: Uyghur Human Rights Project: promotes the rights of the Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim peoples in East Turkistan