An unprecedented hearing is taking place on 25 and 26 October in the High Court (London), as the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and World Uyghur Congress (WUC) take the British government to court to challenge them on failing to tackle the import of Uyghur forced-labour cotton into the UK.
Since 2016, the Chinese government has been operating a vast detention scheme targeted at Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, focused on eliminating their life and culture. The scheme is intimately linked with the Uyghur Region’s cotton industry, which accounts for 85% of the cotton produced by China. Uyghurs are forced to work in factories and prisons in the region – which export products, particularly textiles – to international markets, including the UK. In a report released on 31 August 2022, the United Nations (UN) expressed deep concern that there are crimes against humanity and forced labour occurring in the Uyghur Region.
The High Court will hear that the UK authorities (HM Revenue and Customs, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the National Crime Agency) are failing to investigate breaches of the Foreign Prison Made Goods Act 1897, and the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002.
Siobhán Allen, a Legal Officer with GLAN and consultant solicitor at Bindmans LLP, commented:
Customs authorities are failing to live up to their obligations under international law to stop imports of products made in conditions so appalling and coercive they amount to crimes against humanity. The time has long passed for burying their heads in the sand: the evidence of what is happening in the Uyghur Region is so overwhelming, authorities must take action – now.
Dearbhla Minogue, a Legal Officer with GLAN and consultant solicitor at Bindmans LLP, added:
These statutes were enacted for a reason. Parliament intended to ensure that no products made in foreign prisons enter these shores, and to ensure that criminal property does not circulate here. The Defendants in this case must do more to enforce these rules.
Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress, said:
The UK government has been leading the multilateral response to the genocide with like-minded countries. If there’s a genuine willingness to take tangible action on the matter, this case is the perfect opportunity for the UK to do so domestically. The UK cannot be complicit in these crimes.
The World Uyghur Congress is represented by lawyers from Global Legal Action Network and Salima Budhani of Bindmans LLP.