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Accusations that Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the region have been imprisoned in re-education camps and forced to work are not new, nor are claims that their labor feeds into the global tech and retail supply chains, either directly or indirectly. But they have recently gained fresh attention as tensions between the United States and China escalate, and as Washington, DC sanctions Chinese goods it claims have been produced with forced labor.
Last week, for example, the US government restricted 11 Chinese companies from buying American technology and other goods because it claims they are linked to Xinjiang-related human rights abuses. That came after Washington, DC warned American companies of the risks of doing business with Chinese companies that use labor or goods from Xinjiang because of potential “supply chain exposure to entities engaged in forced labor and other human rights abuses.”
And on Thursday, a coalition of over 180 organizations called out dozens of clothing brands and retailers that it accused of having links “to specific cases of Uyghur forced labor” in Xinjiang. The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region cited “credible investigations and reports” by media outlets, nonprofit groups, government agencies and think tanks to support its claims.

China’s western Xinjiang region is culturally and ethnically different from much of the rest of the country, with a large Turkic minority population. In recent years, marred by ethnic clashes of violence, Uyghurs and other religious minorities have had an uneasy relationship with the government in Beijing.

The US State Department estimates that since 2015, as many as two million Muslim-majority Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities have been imprisoned in enormous re-education camps in Xinjiang.

Beijing has long defended the crackdown in Xinjiang as necessary to tackle extremism and terrorism, and in line with Chinese law and international practice, and has called accusations that it is detaining massive numbers of people a “groundless lie” and “sensational rumor.” It has also claimed that its facilities are voluntary “vocational training centers” where people learn job skills, Chinese language and laws.

The Chinese government has also taken issue with the US response: Last Tuesday, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the recent US sanctions on Chinese companies, saying that “this violates the basic norms of international relations, interferes in China’s internal affairs, and harms China’s interests.”

Addressing the allegations

CNN Business reached out to dozens of companies named in the recent reports and activist pressure campaigns, and their responses illustrate the complex ways in which companies are addressing the allegations.

Some companies, such as PVH (PVH), the US owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, told CNN Business that it was working on “reducing our supply chain footprint in China, which will result in us ending all business relationships with any factories and mills that produce garments or fabric, or use cotton grown, in Xinjiang within the next 12 months.” The move was in line with a broader long-term strategy that had already been in the works for several years, a spokesperson said.
And Big W, a discount department store chain operated by Australia’s Woolworths (WOLWF) Group, said that while the company does not have any factories in Xinjiang, it acknowledged that “currently, we do not have visibility of the full supply chain of cotton.”

“We are aware … that some of the cotton sourced via our suppliers is likely to be from this region and we are conducting further due diligence,” a spokesperson said.

US targets Chinese officials for Xinjiang human rights abuses
But several companies — including Nike (NKE), Puma and Adidas (ADDDF) — denied that they sourced products from the region, and stressed that they had worked to eliminate problematic practices from their supply chains.
“We have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region,” Nike said in a statement released last week. The company referred CNN Business to that statement on Friday when asked for comment.

Nike did acknowledge that one of its partners in China may have previously hired people from Xinjiang, but said it had “stopped hiring employees” at its Qingdao facility once reports surfaced of problematic practices.

That manufacturer “has confirmed” it no longer has employees from the region, Nike said. “To date we have not found employment of Uyghurs or other ethnic minorities from [Xinjiang] elsewhere in China.”

A murky picture

The statement that Nike provided to CNN Business was originally published in response to a report released this spring by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a think tank partially funded by the Australian government.

The report — which linked Nike and dozens of other companies to laborers from Xinjiang, and which has been widely cited by media outlets and activist groups since its publication — was based on Chinese government documents, Chinese state media, satellite imagery, business supplier lists, academic research and on-the-ground media reporting. Nike said some of its affiliations were “inaccurately reported.”

The response from these brands highlights the challenges of clarifying an incredibly murky picture, according to Danielle Cave, a deputy director at ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre, who co-authored the report.

“Full supply chains can often be opaque,” she told CNN Business. “Brands often claim knowledge of only their [direct] suppliers and, frankly, they try to pass the buck on the rest of their supply chain.”

She noted that while some brands defend themselves by saying they have no direct relationships with suppliers found to use forced labor, “Chinese supply chains are complicated, and can [involve] multiple subcontractors.”

What's been happening in China's Xinjiang, home to 11 million Uyghurs?

Adding to the complexity is the fact that some factories can falsely claim to supply global brands. With Adidas, for instance, “one factory in Xinjiang has a giant billboard of Adidas on their premises,” said Cave, citing an analysis of satellite imagery.

But when asked about its ties with that manufacturer, Adidas denied having any direct relationship with the firm.

A spokesperson for Adidas later told CNN Business that the “falsely displayed company logos seem to have been removed from their website and building by now.”

Other companies said that they reviewed their supply chains and business partners in the wake of the ASPI report and other allegations — and found no wrongdoing, at least on their direct assembly lines.

“When we learned of the allegations from ASPI earlier this year, we immediately took additional actions,” Apple said in a statement. “We have found no evidence of any forced labor on Apple production lines and we plan to continue monitoring.”

The tech company even said that it conducts “surprise audits” on its partner O-Film, a Chinese company sanctioned by the United States last week after the government accused it of having links to forced labor involving Uyghurs.

“We have worked with O-Film for several years and have regularly conducted detailed audits of their facilities,” Apple said.

Cave, the ASPI deputy director, said that the mounting pressure could force businesses to reexamine their pledges to keep forced labor out of their supply chains.

“Now that the risks involved with forced labor in China are beginning to be better understood, companies will have to increase their ability to track their suppliers down to raw materials and component parts if they really want to ensure they live up to their ethical manufacturing commitments,” she said.

— Jill Disis, Eoin McSweeney, Philip Wang and Ben Westcott contributed to this report.

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Mongolia’s most eligible eagle hunter

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(CNN) — “Look over there. See that man coming this way?” asks Timur. “He’s so good looking.”

Galloping towards us on a stout Mongolian steed is the nomad’s version of Brad Pitt returning home in “Legends of the Fall.” Bundled inside a pinto jacket above richly embroidered trousers, he certainly catches the eye. A fox fur hat warms his head, and perched calmly on his right forearm is a golden eagle that’s not merely a prop for a cheesy cologne advertisement.

“Look at his eyebrows and his cheekbones,” continues our Intrepid Travel guide. “And look at how big and strong he is. The girls go crazy over him.”

“It’s true,” says Timur’s wife, Bata, blushing slightly. “If I was to compare him with Timur just on looks, of course I would choose him.”

Upon closer inspection, the intruder’s weathered face betrays a life lived outdoors. But his jaw is certainly chiseled and his natural squint reminds me of a youthful Clint Eastwood as he gazes off into the distance.

Jenisbek Tserik, whose name means “steel warrior,” is a semi-nomadic Kazakh.

Mark Daffey

Arguably more impressive though is his stature, which I only begin to appreciate once he stands beside four other berkutchi, or eagle hunters, who have assembled in front of us for a scheduled photo shoot and interview session. He’s close to a head taller, with broad, square shoulders and muscular limbs that are further exaggerated by his bulky attire.

His name is Jenisbek Tserik, an appellation that means “steel warrior” — an apt description given his achievements. A master horseman, he’s also a serial winner of tug-of-war competitions pitting two combatants wrestling a goat carcass.

So adept is Jenisbek that he has been flown to Dubai to compete in exhibition events. For a semi-nomadic Kazakh living in Mongolia’s remote, westernmost province of Bayan-Ölgii, any trip abroad would be like visiting another planet. Glitzy Dubai would be a whole different universe.

Aged 26, Jenisbek tells us he’s not married, then jokes that he has five girlfriends, including one in Dubai and another in Kazakhstan, from where 90% of Bayan-Ölgii’s resident population originates. I’m unsure if he’s serious, but from what Timur and Bata have told me about him, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

As well as the tug-of-war, Jenisbek is a champion archer, and he’s won numerous awards for eagle hunting in Bayan-Ölgii, where the centuries-old pastime is more widespread than anywhere else on the planet.

A proud history

Aged 26, Jenisbek says he's not married -- but has five girlfriends.

Aged 26, Jenisbek says he’s not married — but has five girlfriends.

Tuul & Bruno Morandi/The Image Bank RF/Getty Images

Eagle hunting can be traced back to a forgotten kingdom in Central Asia, where direct descendants of Genghis Khan settled by the Aral Sea until encroaching Russian Empire forces compelled them to flee to the lawless region of the Altai Mountains in Mongolia.

Then, when the Soviet Union and China established borders either side of them early in the 20th century, the Kazakhs became cut off from their homeland and were unable to return.

They continued to live as semi-nomadic herders in Western Mongolia, where traditional pastimes such as hunting with golden eagles continued, passing from one generation to the next. Since such practices were suppressed in Kazakhstan during Soviet rule, Bayan-Ölgii became the sport’s nucleus.

“For a Mongol, it’s pride thing to train racehorses. For Kazakhs, their pride is in training eagles to hunt,” explains Bata.

You can see it in the way they walk and how they behave. The five berkutchi know they’re being watched and they play up to it, puffing their chests out and stiffening their backs whenever a camera lens points their way. Brows furrow and lips purse like they’ve been modeling all their lives.

It’s a far cry from how life must have been in this part of the world before tourism impinged following the first Golden Eagle Festival, which was staged outside the provincial capital of Ölgii in 1999. But even now, foreigners are hardly stampeding to get here. When I quiz our local facilitator about numbers visiting the region this season, he replies that there are “many.”

“How many?” I ask.

“About 800.”

From October to March, eagle hunters head off into the mountains in pairs -- one to flush out their prey, the other to release the eagle from high along a ridgeline.

From October to March, eagle hunters head off into the mountains in pairs — one to flush out their prey, the other to release the eagle from high along a ridgeline.

Mark Daffey

Numbers peak around the timing of the festival in early October, and during the smaller scale Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival, held here in Sagsai two weeks earlier. In each, as many as 100 berkutchi test their skills in events where eagles are expected to catch fox skins being dragged behind horses or in races to scoop up a coin off the ground on horseback.

One flirtatious contest involves a whip-cracking woman chasing after a man who doesn’t always try overly hard to escape. I could imagine Jenisbek receiving a disproportionate share of lashings these past few years.

But it’s only once the tourists have gone that the eagle hunting season begins. From October to March, hunters head off into the mountains in pairs — one to flush out their prey, the other to release the eagle from high along a ridgeline.

Prize catches includes foxes and hares, whose luxuriant coats make the warmest hats, just like those crowning Jenisbek and his companions.

Hunts can last for days at a time, and training requires patience as the eagles become accustomed to their handlers and develop the required skills.

Has it caused couples to divorce, I ask Timur, when husbands spend more time with their birds than they do with their wife? He shrugs his shoulders.

When every unmarried woman in the valley is lining up for you, like they are for Jenisbek, who needs a wife?

Getting there: Though Mongolia is currently closed to tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of tour companies are now accepting bookings for for the 2021 Golden Eagle Festival in Bayan-Ulgii, which takes place in early October.

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Pelosi urges voting to counter Trump on peaceful election transition

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that President Donald Trump’s refusal to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election could be cured at the ballot box.

“That the president of the United States would place in doubt the idea of the peaceful transfer of power, well it’s not a surprise,” Pelosi said. But a clear result from voters, she said, would be the “antidote” to any doubts raised by Trump in his comments. “I have confidence in the American people,” she said.

Pelosi’s remarks came as congressional Republicans declined to directly confront Trump’s comments but emphatically rejected the notion that the country would see anything but a peaceful transition of power should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win the election. Trump, though, has spent months criticizing the integrity of the election rooted in baseless claims about foreign meddling with mail-in ballots and rampant voter fraud in Democrat-led states.

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Rishi Sunak’s Economic Plan Does Nothing To Help Freelancers, New Starters and Some Women On Maternity Leave, MPs Say

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Rishi Sunak’s winter economic plan leaves up to three million people without any specific job support and risks significant unemployment, MPs and economic experts have claimed.

Freelancers, new starters and some women on maternity leave have not had ‘one penny piece’ from the government in six months, the SNP’s economic spokeswoman Alison Thewliss said to the Chancellor as she claimed the new support package still does nothing to help this group of people.

“There’s nothing here, nothing whatsoever, for those that have been excluded from existing support schemes,” she said.

“The freelancers, the ‘forgotten limited’, the PAYE, the new starters, the women on maternity, all of those who have not one penny piece from this government for six months. He cannot say he does not know this is a problem although he still refuses to meet with them.

“How dare he say these three million people should be left high and dry with nothing.”

The Chancellor responded that there had been a temporary increase in universal credit welfare and enhanced support for the most vulnerable. He also referenced a a hardship fund for those struggling to pay council tax bills and said research had shown their financial help so far had made the most difference to those on the lowest incomes.

The Liberal Democrats also said they had deep concerns about the three million people who are tax payers but who have not had financial support.

Their treasury spokesperson, Christine Jardine MP, asked: “What about the three million who have no support for six months and will still be excluded from financial help.

“Where are the job creation plans to tackle unemployment?”

Among those who the group Excluded UK say have been missing out on support are the newly self-employed, those earning less than 50 percent income from self-employment, the self-employed with £50k plus in trading profits, PAYE freelancers and anyone made redundant before March 19. The ‘forgotten limited’ are small limited company directors who have not been eligible for self-employment income support.

Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, Tory MP Mel Stride, said many self-employed people fell through the gaps of the support provided previously and he asked Sunak if he would look at specifically helping that group of people in the new measures. Sunak suggested that the government’s income tax self-assessment deferral scheme could help. 

Jacqueline Harthill, a self-employed owner of the Bristol-based The Happy Parents’ Club said the measures today have not helped people in her position.

She said: “The recently self-employed have once again come away from another major government statement empty-handed. It’s mind-boggling how millions of self-employed people have been left to fend for themselves.

“Once you’ve exhausted your savings, which many self-employed already have, the next step is defaulting on the mortgage, followed by homelessness and, ultimately, a much poorer society. The millions of people who have fallen through all the cracks in the support packages to date will be suffering financially, physically and emotionally for many, many years to come.”

Director for the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson, tweeted that the changes announced by the Chancellor – ending the furlough scheme and shifting to a wage top up scheme – are significant.

He wrote: “This is a v big change from furlough. Less generous. Only open to those who are working a third of normal hours. Understandable given need to adapt as economy changes. Can’t pay all wages forever. But a lot on furlough now likely to lose their job.”

 

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