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Study of Supply Chain Risks related to Xinjiang forced labour

In January 2021, Canada announced new measures to help address the risk of being complicit in human rights abuses in Xinjiang, China. Included in these measures was a commitment to undertake a comprehensive third-party analysis on supply chain risks related to forced labour in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region. Corporate Knights, a Canadian research and media firm, was contracted to undertake the study. The study is intended to contribute to the growing body of knowledge on forced labour in Xinjiang, with the intention of providing Canadian companies with a starting point for undertaking further due diligence on the risks of doing business in the region.

Table of Contents

Introduction

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines forced labour as “the extraction of work or service from any person under the threat of penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.[1] The international community, including Canada, condemns forced labour. It is a long-standing and persistent global issue. The multi-tiered, complex, transnational supply chains of today’s global economy can result in primary and intermediate production being both geographically and transactionally far removed from final assembly and manufacturing operations.

There is documented evidence of human rights violations in the People’s Republic of China against members of the Uyghur ethnic minority and other minorities within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) that includes repressive surveillance, mass arbitrary detention, torture and mistreatment, forced labour, and mass transfers of forced labourers from Xinjiang to provinces across China.”[2] The evidence has been widely acknowledged by the international community, including both Canada[3] and the United States.[4]

Canadian companies sourcing directly or indirectly from Xinjiang or engaging in the Xinjiang market are exposed to legal and reputational risks. It is illegal for a Canadian firm to import goods “mined, manufactured or produced wholly or in part by forced labour,” as specified in the Schedule to the Customs Tariff Act.[5] If it is found that “products that are being shipped to Canada have been produced in whole or in part using forced labour anywhere in the supply chain, they will be prohibited from entering Canada.”[6]

What is forced labour?

In the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), the ILO defines forced or compulsory labour as: "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily”.  Ratifiers to the 1957 ILO Convention 105, including Canada, agreed “to suppress and not make use of any form of forced or compulsory labour--

  1. as a means of political coercion or education or as a punishment for holding or expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social or economic system;
  2. as a method of mobilising and using labour for purposes of economic development;
  3. as a means of labour discipline;
  4. as a punishment for having participated in strikes;
  5. as a means of racial, social, national or religious discrimination.”

The ILO also provides eleven indicators or “red flags” that help identify forced labour practices:

Abuse of vulnerability- the use of monitoring devices and security personnel to intimidate and control the workers and render them vulnerable

Deception

Restriction of movement- controlling access in and out of the building, surrounding the location with tall walls or other barriers

Isolation - breaking up families, restricting access with people on the outside, monitoring interactions on the inside

Physical and sexual violence - poor living conditions, poor nourishment

Intimidation and threats - threats of incarceration, intimidation of family members

Retention of identity documents

Withholding of wages

Debt bondage

Abusive working and living conditions - heavily controlled and militant conditions and management styles, removal of personal, cultural, and religious expression

Excessive overtime - live on site, constant training, and classes outside of working hours, no maximum hours enforced

The Government of Canada expects companies to take every step possible to ensure that their supply chains conform to Canadian law with respect to the prohibition on the import of goods produced by forced labour.

Specifically with regard to the situation in Xinjiang, companies engaging with the Trade Commissioner Service must sign the Xinjiang Integrity Declaration[7] if they are (1) sourcing directly or indirectly from Xinjiang or from entities relying on Uyghur labour, (2) established in Xinjiang, or (3) seeking to engage in the Xinjiang market. This declaration ensures that the company is aware of the human rights situation in Xinjiang, abides by all relevant Canadian and international laws, respects human rights, and seeks to meet or exceed the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises[8] and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,[9] which requires companies to:

Beyond the legal risks and the associated risk of supply chain disruption, the use of forced labour in a supply chain constitutes a reputational risk that can have short- and long-term consequences to brand value among customers as well as in capital markets where investors are increasingly applying environmental, social, and governance criteria in assessing opportunities.[10] Human rights violations and forced labour in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are the focus of intense international media, civil society, and government attention that is likely to lead to continuing revelations about the connections between forced labour and the supply chains of Canadian firms. The report provides information about the forced labour issue in Xinjiang, the supply chains most at risk, services available to research potential connections between suppliers and participation in state-sanctioned labour transfer programs, and the applicable Canadian laws and policies. These resources can be treated as a starting point for companies to understand the risks present in their supply chains.

Forced Labour in Xinjiang, China

The Situation

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is the largest Chinese province, equal in size to Quebec (1.7 million km2), situated in the northwest of China, in the heart of central Asia (see map). It is as far removed from Beijing as Calgary is from Ottawa. The Uyghurs[11] are a Turkic ethnic group that have origins and cultural roots within Central and East Asia. The Tarim Basin in southwest Xinjiang has been home to the Uyghurs for more than 1,300 years, and some believe for much longer. When the area came under control of China in 1949, Xinjiang’s population was over 75% Uyghurs and 2.5% Chinese. After decades of Han Chinese in-migration, the Uyghurs now make up less than 50% of the region’s population of 26 million but comprise 85% to 90% of the population in and around the ancient city of Kashgar, near the Kyrgyzstan border.

In the Xinjiang Region, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is using otherwise legitimate programs for retraining and relocation of unemployed workers as instruments of a broader campaign of oppression, exploitation, and indoctrination of the Uyghur Muslim population into Han Chinese culture. Non-voluntary participation in retraining and relocation programs provides forced labour to the bottom of the supply chains for textiles and apparel, food products, and semiconductor-based products, including solar panels. The forced labour allows cheap raw materials (e.g., cotton, quartz sand, polysilicon, tomatoes, etc.) to be offered (along with tax breaks and subsidized coal-fired electricity) to companies the next step up the supply chain, who in turn make products for the next step up the supply chain, et cetera.

The PRC involvement in this activity, the remoteness of the region, and state involvement complicate the process of human rights due diligence. Independent, unannounced, third-party audits of Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers may not reveal the forced labour taking place several layers further down in a company’s supply chains. By the time the bottles of tomato paste, the designer clothes, and the solar panels enter the retail markets of Western economies, the products are far removed from the forced labour that goes into them.

While the problem is concentrated in the Xinjiang Region, the issue is further complicated by the use of otherwise legitimate state-led development initiatives to move “retrained” Uyghurs to other regions of China.[12] The “Xinjiang Aid” program encompasses education, talent management, housing, infrastructure, and emergency control. While not itself a policy for transferring Uyghurs from the “retraining camps” to other parts of China, there are reports of alleged forced labour in programs under the “Industrial Xinjiang Aid” policy. The Hundred Villages Thousand Factories Pairing is another program that may be implicated.[13]

Not every victim of forced labour will be in a publicly known facility; they can be sent to work anywhere in the country. The fact that the facilities using Uyghur workers are state sanctioned renders accurate tracking of forced labour extremely difficult. Canadian companies should be aware that the most common ways that they will be linked to forced labour in Xinjiang is not through direct partnerships and relationships with factories and suppliers in Xinjiang but rather through indirect relationships deeper into their supply chains.

Supply Chains at Risk

Products for which there is a high probability of being produced wholly or in part by non-voluntary Uyghur workers include polysilicon and downstream electronic and photovoltaic products, tomatoes and downstream processed food products, and cotton and downstream fabric and apparel products.[14]

China is the world’s largest exporter of tomato paste[15] (70% or more from Xinjiang), is the largest exporter of cotton[16] (mostly from Xinjiang), and provides 50% or more of the world’s supply of polysilicon,[17] most of which originates from the quartzite mines of Xinjiang. Canada imported over $5 billion in apparel products from China in 2020,[18] much of it including cotton, and an estimated 85% of Chinese cotton originates in Xinjiang. Experts interviewed for this paper agreed that products made wholly or in part from cotton represent perhaps the largest risk of supply chain forced labour to Canadian firms.

In addition to fabric and apparel originating in China, Xinjiang cotton can be in the blends of cotton in fabric and apparel from other nations, further complicating the challenge of identifying supply chains tainted with Xinjiang forced labour. There may be a similar issue with processed food products where third-party nations are exporting products containing intermediate inputs from Xinjiang, including, for example, the export of tomato paste for further processing.[19]

Xinjiang is also the source of about half the world supply of polysilicon, a key component of the field effect transistors (MOSFET) that are used in integrated circuits in a wide range of electronic products, including solar panels.

The non-voluntary relocation of labourers from Xinjiang throughout China raises the possibility that forced labour can taint supply chains across a broad spectrum of industries. Workers in such programs may be embedded in factories where their presence is not immediately obvious to outsiders, but there are a number of indicators that can reflect the presence of forced labour (see text box: “Indicators of Forced Labour”).[20]

The United States Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory includes a list of industries that public reporting has identified as using forced labour in Xinjiang. The list as of July 2021 is included in Figure 1.

Canadian companies exporting certain technologies to China may also be at risk. The Global Affairs Canada advisory on doing business with Xinjiang-related entities cautions that Canadian businesses and individuals operating in certain high-technology fields such as cameras, sensors, and biometric devices may face greater risks when doing business in China as these products are being used to arbitrarily track Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang.[21] Businesses in these fields should exercise the highest level of due diligence and caution with respect to end-users of their products and services.

Figure 1.
US illustrative list of industries in Xinjiang for which public reporting has indicated forced labour is being used.[22]
Industry

Agriculture (including such products as raw cotton, hami melons, korla pears, tomato products, and garlic)

Cell Phones

Cleaning Supplies

Construction

Cotton, Cotton Yarn, Cotton Fabric, Ginning, Spinning Mills, and Cotton Products

Electronics Assembly

Extractives (including coal, copper, hydrocarbons, oil, uranium, and zinc)

Fake hair and human hair wigs, hair accessories

Food processing factories

Footwear

Gloves

Hospitality Services

Metallurgical grade silicon

Noodles

Printing Products

Renewable Energy (polysilicon, ingots, wafers, crystalline silicon solar cells, crystalline silicon solar photovoltaic modules)

Stevia

Sugar

Textiles (including such products as apparel, bedding, carpets, wool, viscose)

Toys

Figure 2. High-security detention facility in Hotan, Xinjiang

Source: New York Times[23]

Risk Response Strategies

The Government of Canada expects businesses and individuals with links to Xinjiang or labourers from Xinjiang to undertake thorough due diligence and closely examine their supply chains to ensure that their activities do not support repression, including, for example, the Chinese government’s surveillance apparatus in Xinjiang, detention or internment facilities, or the use of forced labour. Similarly, the Government of Canada encourages companies and individuals to closely examine end-users of their products and services to ensure that they are not being used to support these activities.

Due Diligence

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights describes the components of due diligence with regard to human rights violations such as forced labour practices:

“In order to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for how they address their adverse human rights impacts, business enterprises should carry out human rights due diligence. The process should include assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, integrating and acting upon the findings, tracking responses, and communicating how impacts are addressed. Human rights due diligence:

Key strategies and actions recommended by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights include:

Assessing Risk Exposure

Researching and understanding the issue is the first step in addressing potential exposure to forced labour risks in supply chains.

The first step: know your supply chain. When reviewing supply chains related to Xinjiang, businesses should closely examine potential indicators of forced labour and other abuses. A lack of transparency on the part of Tier 2 or 3 suppliers is another warning sign, as is the proximity of detention or internment facilities to supplier facilities (often referred to euphemistically as re-education centres, vocational schools, or boarding schools/kindergartens for children).

Indicators of Forced Labour

The presence of a single indicator in a given situation may in some cases imply the existence of forced labour. However, in other cases you may need to look for several indicators which, taken together, point to a forced labour case. Overall, the set of eleven indicators covers the main possible elements of a forced labour situation, and hence provides the basis to assess whether or not an individual worker is a victim of this crime.

From “ILO Indicators of Forced Labour,” https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/publications/WCMS_203832/lang--en/index.html

Unannounced, independent, third-party audits of supplier facilities, the gold standard of supply chain assessment, are generally insufficient in the current Chinese context. The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Fair Labor Association identify the difficulties in finding accurate and reliable information, and the inherent risks to worker safety, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has concluded that “traditional third-party audits are highly unlikely to be effective” due to interference and surveillance by the Chinese government.[24] Experts and business leaders interviewed for this report stressed the importance of collaborating with industry counterparts and associations, with government, and with non-governmental organizations and academics who are working to identify the linkages between forced labour in Xinjiang and global supply chains.

The experts and organizations that are focused on this issue can be particularly valuable to companies seeking to assess their risk of exposure to forced labour in Xinjiang. Guidelines for conducting due diligence in high-risk and conflict-affected regions can be found in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,[25] the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises,[26] and the ILO Handbook for Employers and Business.[27]

Companies with their own operations in China can control their own manufacturing labour conditions and can monitor and exert indirect control over their supply chains, at least at the Tier 1 level. Some Canadian firms have a long-standing presence in China and have been able to build strong and trusting relationships with their Chinese business partners with a corresponding level of confidence in the commitments made by and reporting they receive from suppliers. These firms generally have staff on the ground that can both provide intelligence about the firm’s supply chain and manage cultural barriers that may arise. At the same time, those with staff in China may (and have) found their staff to be at risk of reprisals.

Even with the support of industry associations and the opportunity to participate in jointly funded audits, it is particularly difficult for both large and small firms to see deeply into their supply chains where the forced labour is most likely to occur. Methods and certifications that are often available in other countries are not an option in China, where efforts to investigate labour practices put both the auditors and the audited at risk. This problem was repeated in interviews with companies and industry associations – Canadian companies using Chinese intermediate products have a risk of having forced labour in their supply chains, even if several times removed from the point of final manufacture.

Notwithstanding these challenges, it is incumbent on all Canadian firms to exercise due diligence in identification and elimination of forced labour practices in their supply chains. There are several steps that companies can take to facilitate their due diligence.

Educate – Companies can educate themselves by reading government advisories, briefings from associations, and reports from independent bodies and observers, like the UN or research institutes. Companies can ensure they fully understand what forced labour is and the relevant laws and policies relating to forced labour in supply chains, and that they understand the extent to which their own supply chains and those of their sector, industry, or product lines may be affected.

Collaborate – Collaboration, cooperation, and information-sharing characterize the approach that some Canadian and other Western companies have taken to address forced labour supply chain risks in China. Even the largest companies, with significant manufacturing and assembly operations in China, work together on this issue, both in industry associations and through informal networks. For smaller companies, membership and participation in industry associations is a key strategy for learning about supply chain risks and for seeking guidance on preventative and corrective measures that can be taken to mitigate the risks. There are associations that cover multiple industries (e.g., the Responsible Business Association) and industry-specific associations,[28] each offering shared learning and collaboration opportunities, briefings, training, and peer-to-peer networking and working groups.

Red Flag Indicators of Forced Labour

In the report Connecting the Dots in Xinjiang, researchers Amy Lehr and Mariefaye Bachrakis created an evidenced-base list of red flags that may indicate forced labour in a supply chain:

  • A factory in a detention facility
  • A factory in an industrial park that is connected to the government’s “reeducation” efforts
  • A company that is hiring workers through government recruiters
  • Language mentioning employing ethnic minority “graduates” or ex-detainees; those who were trained and cleansed of extremist thoughts; or involvement in “reskilling”
  • A new factory built near a detention facility around the same time
  • A company that is receiving incentives/subsidies from the government for items such as “training supplements” for particular factories in Xinjiang; “vocational training”; or “aid to Xinjiang”
  • Participation in the government’s poverty alleviation and/or pairing programs in Xinjiang,
  • A company with ownership linkages to a company known to be part of the system of prison labor in Xinjiang, and
  • Significant company profits and manufacturing productivity despite a small number of workers enrolled in the government’s social security program.

Association membership fees can be a barrier to small and medium- sized enterprises, although many associations offer tiered membership fees depending on size. Peer-to-peer networking and learning is also possible outside of associations. Multiple interviewees said that information-sharing and collaboration on this issue are essential to managing the risk. Smaller companies can reach out to others (large and small) to form their own peer-learning circles.

Investigate – Companies operating in China can investigate their supply chains to look for both existing instances and imminent or future risk of forced labour in their supply chains. Approaches that can be taken include:

Preventative Actions

Interviews with Canadian firms, experts, and industry associations identified several best practices for preventing forced labour in supply chains.

Supplier codes of conduct and scorecards. Supplier codes of conduct articulate a company’s policy banning the use of forced labour and the requirements the company places on its suppliers to abide by its policy, often combined with other human rights requirements. Associations can often help with this, providing guidance on creating, examples of, and even sometimes standardized requirement that all their members must use. Best practice dictates that company policies and the essential elements of codes of conduct should be published on company websites.

Supplier scorecards grade suppliers on their adherence to company-identified indicators. There are supply chain tracking services as well as some industry associations that provide scorecard-type tools and services to their members or on a subscription or fee-for-service basis.

Procurement as a lever for change in supplier practices. Companies can also make demands of their suppliers, using procurement levers to drive further down into their supply chains. This is more difficult to do in China than elsewhere but is nonetheless a tool that companies can use to improve labour practices among their suppliers. Larger companies and companies working together in associations or networks will have more influence than small companies or companies acting alone.

Build trust. Companies, and especially companies with a history of operating in or trading with China, stressed the importance of building long-term trusted relationships with suppliers as an approach that can protect against the risk of forced labour in their supply chains. Interviewees said that strong and trusting relationships with their business partners means they can be more confident in the commitments made by, and reporting they receive from, their business partners. Larger companies, especially those with their own manufacturing operations in China, may be at an advantage when it comes to this approach because they have staff on the ground to build cultural competence and sustain relationships, have access to continuous intelligence, and, at least in their own factories, have control over their labour practices.

Diversify. Building diversity in supply chains hedges against the risk of forced labour practices disrupting a particular supply chain and facilitates leverage with suppliers in extracting commitments to adhere to codes of conduct. With the complexity of the situation in China today, companies that have the capacity to shift their orders to alternative suppliers if/when a situation arises that cannot be resolved will be at an advantage. Contingency planning for the sudden loss of a supplier is good business practice.

Certify. The use of suppliers who are certified as using acceptable labour practices is a widespread and effective strategy for keeping forced labour out of a supply chain. This approach is hampered in China by the state sanctioning of forced labour programs and controls that impede transparent, third-party verification of labour practices.

Remedial Actions

In the case of China, interviewed companies pointed out that audits will almost certainly reveal infractions and violations of codes of conduct and best practices regarding forced labour and human rights generally. Indeed, some went so far as to say that if audits are not revealing such problems, it is an indication that the audits are not sufficiently thorough or rigorous.

When evidence of forced labour is found in a supply chain, it must be addressed without delay.  This does not necessarily mean the company should end the business relationship immediately; most companies interviewed said that their first response is to work with the supplier to contain and correct the identified violation and to pursue a plan to prevent future breaches of the company’s supplier code of conduct. Larger firms with established supplier relationships in China may be in a better position to pursue this approach. Small and medium-sized enterprises without a presence in China can work with their industry associations to effect change and can also diversify their sources of supply and have contingency plans in the eventuality their supply is disrupted by discovery of illegal forced labour in their supply chains. For companies of all sizes, it is important to demonstrate due diligence in the identification and elimination of forced labour in their supply chains.

Annex A. Government Reports

Canadian Border Services Agency: Goods manufactured or produced by prison or forced labour Memorandum D9-1-6

This memorandum was updated from the 2012 edition and published to include further information on Canada’s import prohibition on goods associated with forced labour as established by the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement Implementation Act. This includes changes in policy and legislation.

Canadian House of Commons: FAAE Committee Report

This is a report created by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on the human rights situation of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, China. This report provides background information, examples of mechanisms of suppression, international obligations, recommendations, and a request for the Government of Canada to respond (which can be found here).

EU: Guidance on due diligence for EU businesses to address the risk of forced labour in their operations and supply chains

This is a guidance report published by the European Union (EU) to provide advice to countries within the EU on how to practise due diligence. Although focused on the EU, this report provides helpful insight on due diligence practices related to forced labour in supply chains.

Global Affairs Canada: Responsible Business Conduct Abroad

Since 2009, Canada has had a responsible business conduct strategy for Canadian companies operating abroad. Numerous tools and resources can be found on the Global Affairs Canada website.

Global Affairs Canada: Advisory on doing business with Xinjiang-related entities

In 2021, Global Affairs Canada published a report on the measures related to the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). This advisory was made to bring attention to the human rights violations currently affecting Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the XUAR. The advisory is meant to help Canadian firms understand the many associated risks posed to those whose supply chains engage with possible Chinese entities implicated in the use of forced labour.

Additional adopted measures were announced to address the risks that arise when goods from any country that are produced using forced labour enter Canadian and its supply chains. The Measures report helps to relay the current information and requirements set out for the country, as well as Canadian businesses. Among these requirements is the Integrity Declaration on Doing Business with Xinjiang Entities.

Government of Canada: ESDC-Labour: Supporting the Forced Labour Import Ban and Social Corporate Responsibility (CSR) initiatives

This resource, published by Employment and Social Development Canada, seeks to support Canadian businesses with both the Forced Labour Import Ban and the CSR initiatives. This report provides background on both initiatives and provides links to supportive resources and organizations in Canada and abroad.

Government of Canada: Joint statement on human rights situation in Xinjiang

In 2021, in a step to state concern about the human rights violations in China, the Government of Canada submitted a cross-regional joint statement to the United Nations on behalf of 44 countries. This statement expresses the concerns of these countries and provides additional recommendations that they believe must be taken by the UN and China.

United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Concluding observations on the combined 14th to 17th periodic reports of China (including Hong Kong, China and Maca)

Sections 40 and 41 of the statement include eight recommendations that relate explicitly to the situation in Xinjiang.

People’s Republic of China Customs: Imports and Exports

This webpage by the PRC’s General Administration of Customs provides an array of monthly customs data, including categorization of China’s total export & import values (in USD) and China’s major exports by quantity and value (in USD).

United Nations: Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is an especially important document for all Canadian businesses, regardless of size or sector, to read thoroughly. This report has guided many subsequent reports, and many governments, including the Canadian government, place high value on it. Report sections cover the state duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and access to remedy.

OHCHR: Frequently Asked Questions on the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) created a document of frequently asked questions on business and human rights for organizations to have access to the 40 most frequent questions asked, and their responses.

U.S. of International Labour Affairs: Against Their Will, The Situation in Xinjiang

The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) works to strengthen labour standards, combat forced labour, and enforce trade commitments. They published this report on Xinjiang to inform and educate individuals and entities about Xinjiang’s Uyghur population. This report draws on published victims’ testimonies and published academic reports and media reports to identify the many industries that are currently implicated in using Xinjiang forced labour.

United States Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory

This advisory was created by the US government to explain the situation in Xinjiang and to make relevant connections to global supply chains. This was a follow-up on their previous year’s advisory, to advise businesses on the heightened risks for those who have supply chain and investment links to Xinjiang. Although focused on US policies and regulations, it is a useful resource to understand the many risks for anyone importing and exporting out of the region.

Congressional-Executive Commission on China: Global Supply Chains, Forced Labor, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

This is a staff research report created by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a US commission that was mandated to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China. This report focuses on Uyghur forced labour and global supply chains, to educate and inform the public. The report examines all existing information on the situation regarding Xinjiang, goods and companies associated with forced labour, US importation laws, and international human rights laws.

Annex B. Guidelines and Standards

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre is a team of human rights advocates seeking to improve human rights in business, through the improvement of corporate responsibility, accountability, and transparency. They provide weekly updates, briefing papers, bulletins, reports, and media coverage of global human rights topics. They have web pages dedicated to due diligence, labour rights, the UN Guiding Principles, and other relevant topics.

ICC Anti-Corruption Clause

The International Chamber of Commerce Anti-Corruption Clause is a clause for companies to include in their agreements, current and future, to create trust and understanding between parties, and to prevent possible corruption during the negotiation and performance of a contract.

ILO Better Work Program

The ILO Better Work program brings together governments, international brands, factory owners, unions, and workers to improve working conditions in the apparel industry and to make the sector more competitive. This program seeks to influence policy-makers and decision-makers to promote decent work and better business.

ILO: Combating Forced Labour - Handbook for Businesses

The ILO created the Combating Forced Labour Handbook to provide guidance materials and tools for employers and businesses to strengthen their ability to prevent the risk of forced labour and human trafficking in their supply chains and their operations.

ILO: Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

Adopted in 1998, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work commits member states to respect and promote human rights. The principles and rights fall under four categories: 1. the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, 2. the elimination of compulsory or forced labour, 3. the elimination of child labour, and 4. the elimination of discrimination regarding employment and occupation.

ILO: Ending child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in global supply chains

This report was made for governments, businesses, the financial sector, and civil society, to help them achieve their commitments for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to end child labour, forced labour, and human trafficking. The report focuses on both child labour and forced labour, and their ties to global supply chains.

ILO: Indicators of Forced Labour

The Indicators of Forced Labour was created to help labour inspectors, trade union officers, NGO workers, and others to identify situations where individuals are possibly trapped into forced labour. These indicators provide signs and clues on some of the identifiers that are most found in these cases.

ILO: Responsible Supply Chains in Asia

The Responsible Supply Chains in Asia program aims to promote sustainability and further economic, social, and environmental progress. They do this by integrating responsible business practices into the operations of multinational companies and their global supply chains.

IFC: Labor and Working Conditions

The IFC Performance Standards on Labor and Working Conditions recognizes that the pursuit of economic growth through employment creation and income generation should be accompanied by the protection of the fundamental rights of workers. This document outlines six objectives that organizations should follow.

IFC: Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability

The IFC standards provide a framework for corporate strategic commitment to sustainable development. This framework comprises IFC’s policy and performance standards on environmental and social sustainability and IFC’s access to information policy.

Import Genius: International Trade Databases for Import-Export Businesses

Import Genius is an international trade database that allows individuals to search global import/export records from US Customs. This provides data on all the supply chains of eight million US importers, from small to large companies. You can find all relevant import data such as product type, country of origin, shipper and shipper address, and more. Although this is US import data and a paid membership is required, this tool is useful in finding Chinese exports and potentially learning from other companies’ supply chains.

OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct

The OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct provides support to enterprises on the implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. These guidelines can help address and mitigate the negative impacts related to workers, human rights, bribery, the environment, and corporate governance that may arise during the operations of an organization.

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are recommendations made by governments to multinational organizations operating in any of the countries signed on to OECD. These guidelines are non-binding principles and standards that are provided for responsible business conduct, while following applicable laws and internationally accepted standards.

OECD: Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector

The Due Diligence Guidelines for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector solely focuses on garments and footwear because these sectors are two of the largest consumer goods sectors in the world. This guidance assists companies to identify and prevent negative impacts related to human rights violations and other problems that can arise during operations.

OECD-FAO: Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains

The Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains provides a framework and a globally applicable benchmark to help agri-businesses and investors contribute to sustainable development, to identify and mitigate adverse impacts.

The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide

The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights is a guide published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which focuses on the guiding principles that address the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. This report was created in collaboration with the former special representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights promotes the principles and their implementation by members from three pillars: corporate, government, and NGO. These principles guide companies on how to conduct their security operations while respecting human rights.

ISO: 20400 Sustainable Procurement

ISO 20400 Sustainable Procurement is a tool for organizations wanting to integrate sustainability into their procurement processes. This is a purchasing-specific ISO standard, based on the broader 26000 standard. This ISO standard is applicable to all business sizes in all sectors and applies to every purchasing decision. The guidelines help to promote profitable business practices while reducing social and environmental harm. The guidelines focus on the working conditions of suppliers’ employees and ensuring that the products or services purchased are sustainable and that socio-economic issues are mitigated and addressed. This standard is not required to be certified.

ISO: 26000 Social Responsibility

ISO 26000 goes beyond purchasing processes and focuses on social responsibility in business. This ISO standard is applicable to businesses of all sizes and sectors. The goal of this standard is to help businesses understand what social responsibility is, help them translate principles into effective actions, and share best practices. This ISO standard is also not required to be certified.

Observatory of Economic Complexity: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) provides the latest international trade data for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, including export and import data, trends, and economic complexity. With a paid pro membership, more extensive data is available, such as historical data, export and import dynamics, yearly importance and exports, product space and more. The OEC website also has numerous tools that provide further insight on a country's exports and imports, including a trend explorer (paid), tree map, stacked export and import diagrams, product networks, geo maps, and other diagrams. With the OEC Pro, you may also unlock access to subnational data from regions and provinces within China.


[1] “Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29).” International Labour Organization, Jun-1930 [Online]. Available: https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO:12100:P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312174:NO

[2] See: A. K. Lehr and M. Bechrakis, “Connecting the Dots in Xinjiang,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C, USA, Oct. 2019 [Online]. Available: https://www.csis.org/analysis/connecting-dots-xinjiang-forced-labor-forced-assimilation-and-western-supply-chains; L. Murphy and N. Elimä, “In Broad Daylight: Uyghur Forced Labour and Global Solar Supply Chains,” Sheffield Hallam University Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, Sheffield, UK, 2021 [Online]. Available: https://www.shu.ac.uk/helena-kennedy-centre-international-justice/research-and-projects/all-projects/in-broad-daylight. [Accessed: 07-Sep-2021; V. X. Xu, D. Cave, J. Leibold, K. Munro, and N. Ruser, “Uyghurs for sale: ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, No. 26/2020, Mar. 2020 [Online]. Available: https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sal; A. Ramzy and C. Buckley, “The Xinjiang Papers,” New York Times, Nov. 2019 [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/16/world/asia/china-xinjiang-documents.htm; “The Xinjiang Data Project,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2021 [Online]. Available: https://xjdp.aspi.org.au/data/?tab=dataset; “UN experts deeply concerned by alleged detention, forced labour of Uyghurs,” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Mar. 2021.

[3] Global Affairs Canada, “Global Affairs Canada advisory on doing business with Xinjiang-related entities,” Government of Canada, Ottawa, Jan. 2021 [Online]. Available: https://www.international.gc.ca/global-affairs-affaires-mondiales/news-nouvelles/2021/2021-01-12-xinjiang-advisory-avis.aspx?lang=eng. [Accessed: 09-Sep-2021]

[4] United States Department of State, “Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory,” United States of America, Jul. 2021 [Online]. Available: https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Xinjiang-Business-Advisory-13July2021-1.pdf. [Accessed: 07-Sep-2021]

[5] Canada Border Services Agency, “Goods Manufactured or Produced by Prison or Forced Labour,” Government of Canada, Ottawa, Memorandum D9-1-6, May 2021 [Online]. Available: https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/publications/dm-md/d9/d9-1-6-eng.html

[6] The full text of the agreement can be found here: The Secretariat for the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), https://can-mex-usa-sec.org/secretariat/agreement-accord-acuerdo/index.aspx?lang=eng.

[7] Global Affairs Canada, “Integrity Declaration on Doing Business with Xinjiang Entities,” Government of Canada, Jan. 2021 [Online]. Available: https://www.international.gc.ca/global-affairs-affaires-mondiales/news-nouvelles/2021/2021-01-12-xinjiang-declaration.aspx?lang=eng. [Accessed: 07-Sep-2021]

[8] OECD, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, 2011 Edition. OECD, 2011 [Online]. Available: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/governance/oecd-guidelines-for-multinational-enterprises_9789264115415-en. [Accessed: 07-Sep-2021]

[9] “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, 2011 [Online]. Available: https://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/guidingprinciplesbusinesshr_en.pdf. [Accessed: 07-Sep-2021]

[10] “Global Risk Landscape 2020 Report: The Integrity Index,” BDO Canada, Oct. 2020 [Online]. Available: https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2020

[11] Also spelled Uighurs, Uygurs or Uigurs.

[12] A. Zenz, “Coercive Labor in Xinjiang: Labor Transfer and the Mobilization of Ethnic Minorities to Pick Cotton,” Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, Intelligence Briefing, Dec. 202AD [Online]. Available: https://newlinesinstitute.org/china/coercive-labor-in-xinjiang-labor-transfer-and-the-mobilization-of-ethnic-minorities-to-pick-cotton/. [Accessed: 07-Sep-2021]; and A. Zenz, “Beyond the Camps: Beijing’s long-term scheme of coercive labor, poverty alleviation and social control in Xinjiang,” Journal of Political Risk, Dec. 2019 [Online]. Available: https://www.jpolrisk.com/beyond-the-camps-beijings-long-term-scheme-of-coercive-labor-poverty-alleviation-and-social-control-in-xinjiang/

[13] The Hundred Villages Program is a pairing assistance program between Xinjiang and the Zhejiang Province. However, pairing assistance programs connect factories from all over China, and are being used for the non-voluntary transfer of Uyghurs from Xinjiang.

[14] “Withhold Release Orders and Findings,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection. [Online]. Available: https://www.cbp.gov/trade/programs-administration/forced-labor/withhold-release-orders-and-findings. [Accessed: 07-Sep-2021]

[15] The Tomato News, “Global Trade of Tomato Paste”, https://www.tomatonews.com/en/global-trade-of-tomato-paste-updated-15-juin-2020_2_1054.html.

[16] World’s Top Exports, “Cotton Exports by Country”, https://www.worldstopexports.com/cotton-exports-by-country/

[17] , Nikos Tsafos, “Addressing Forced Labor Concerns in Polysilicon Produced in Xinjiang”, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, June 7, 2021. https://www.worldstopexports.com/cotton-exports-by-country/

[18] Statistics Canada, “Canadian International Merchandise Trade Database (CIMT), 2017-2021,” Government Canada, Ottawa [Online]. Available: https://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset/b1126a07-fd85-4d56-8395-143aba1747a4

[19] F.-X. Branthome, “China: exports under threat from a possible extension of the boycott,” Tomato News, Apr-2021 [Online]. Available: https://www.tomatonews.com/en/china-exports-under-threat-from-a-possible-extension-of-the-boycott_2_1260.html

[20] Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour, “ILO Indicators of Forced Labour,” International Labour Organization, Oct. 2012 [Online]. Available: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/publications/WCMS_203832/lang--en/index.htm

[21] See Canadian International Council, “Canadian researchers risk helping China built its surveillance state”, and CBC, The Passionate Eye, “In Xinjiang, China, surveillance technology is used to help the state control its citizens”.

[22] United States Department of State, “Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory,” United States of America, Jul. 2021 [Online]. Available: https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Xinjiang-Business-Advisory-13July2021-1.pdf. [Accessed: 07-Sep-2021]

[23] https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/24/world/asia/xinjiangpromo/xinjiangpromo-superJumbo-v2.jpg

[24] A. K. Lehr and M. Bechrakis, “Connecting the Dots in Xinjiang,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C, USA, Oct. 2019 [Online]. Available: https://www.csis.org/analysis/connecting-dots-xinjiang-forced-labor-forced-assimilation-and-western-supply-chains

[25] “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, 2011 [Online]. Available: https://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/guidingprinciplesbusinesshr_en.pdf. [Accessed: 07-Sep-2021]

[26] OECD, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, 2011 Edition. OECD, 2011 [Online]. Available: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/governance/oecd-guidelines-for-multinational-enterprises_9789264115415-en. [Accessed: 07-Sep-2021]

[27] International Labour Organization, Combating forced labour: a handbook for employers and business. Geneva: ILO, 2015 [Online]. Available: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/publications/WCMS_101171/lang--en/index.htm

[28] A full list of Canadian national business and industry associations can be found through the following hyperlink: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/corporate/transparency/briefing-materials/corporate-book/national-industry-organizations.html

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