Ireland’s revenue and customs authorities are required by law to ban imports of cotton from China that is said to be produced using forced labour, rights groups have said.

In a statement to the tax authority, the two groups say they will take the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg if the tax authority does not impose such a ban. They plan to push for a regulation that will “rewrite the relationship between retail stores and goods made with forced labour” across the EU.

“The status quo is that we are open for business for goods produced against the backdrop of crimes against humanity and forced labour,” said Gearóid Ó Cuinn, director of the Global Legal Action Network (Glan), which has offices in Galway and London. “Retail stores are selling these products knowing full well what’s going on” in Xinjiang.

Efforts to ban imports of cotton that may be linked to the use of forced labor in China’s Xinjiang province are being welcomed by GLAN and the Munich World Uyghur Congress (WUC).

The U.S. has already imposed restrictions on all imports from Xinjiang, under which there is a presumption that goods from the region were produced using forced labor unless proven otherwise.

The Beijing regime launched a “hard strike” policy in Xinjiang in 2014 in an attempt to fight what it calls terrorism and extremism. The province is home to Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic groups.

In August, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report on the extensive network of camps that have been established by the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang. It states that “the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detentions of members of Uyghur and predominantly Muslim groups…may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

Glan and WUC are not only writing to the Inland Revenue and demanding a response within one month, they are also seeking a ban from the UK authorities. After their bid for such a ban in 2020 was rejected, a court hearing in London is scheduled for later this month to challenge the decision not to impose a ban.

If the request is rejected by the Irish authorities, Mr O’Quinn said, the High Court will be asked to conduct a judicial review of the decision and immediately seek the Luxembourg court’s opinion on EU law on the matter.

In a letter to the Department of Revenue, the groups argue that EU and international law clearly recognize the prohibition of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labor as fundamental human rights, and that Ireland has a duty to apply its import laws in a way that respects this prohibition.

China is the world’s largest producer of cotton, accounting for about 20 percent of the annual total, with more than 80 percent of that coming from Xinjiang.

The government crackdown in Xinjiang has led to the creation of a sprawling network of what authorities there call “vocational training camps,” and the network of camps is “closely linked” to the regions’ cotton industry, the filing said.

“Uighurs are forced to work in factories and prisons in the region that export products, especially textiles, to international markets, including Ireland,” the Department of Revenue said.

Mr O’Quinn said the importation of cotton made with forced labor contravenes the Goods Made in Prisons Abroad Act 1897, which is the law here as well as in the UK. The lawsuit, due to be heard later this month in London, will also argue that importing cotton from Xinjiang is an offense under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2022.

The court will hear arguments that Xinjiang cotton is “criminal property” because it was obtained through crimes involving forced labor and crimes against humanity. Therefore, any UK national who knowingly (or with suspicion) acquires them is committing a money laundering offence.

The hearing in London will be the first time a group of Uyghur plaintiffs has been represented in a foreign courtroom. WUC is a non-governmental organization that seeks to promote democracy, human rights and freedom for the Uyghur people through peaceful, non-violent and democratic means.

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