In this file image from undated video footage run by China's CCTV via AP Video, Muslim trainees work in a garment factory at the Hotan Vocational Education and Training Center in Hotan, Xinjiang, northwest China. © CCTV via AP Video, File

As the international outcry grows over the Chinese government’s arbitrary detention, forced labor and other egregious abuses against Turkic Muslims in the northwest region of Xinjiang, 12 Japanese companies recently told Kyodo News that they would “cease or consider ceasing business with business partners found to be using forced labor.” The companies include household names such as Sony and Hitachi.

Their statement indicates greater recognition of China’s use of forced labor in Xinjiang. In February 2020, an Australian think tank issued a list of 82 global brands, including 11 major Japanese companies, that sourced from factories in China that used workers from Xinjiang under conditions that “strongly suggest” forced labor.

Nearly all the Japanese companies named in the list have either denied directly doing business with companies allegedly benefitting from forced labor, or said they could not substantiate the allegations against their suppliers. The latter is not surprising, considering that pervasive Chinese restrictions across Xinjiang make effective due diligence impossible.

But even with this announcement to cease doing business with companies found to be using forced labor, Japanese companies operating in Xinjiang can do more. They should join other companies in the Coalition to End Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region, which recognizes the constraints around identifying forced labor and calls on companies to withdraw if they cannot verify that their supply chains are free of abuses.

At the same time, the Japanese government should enforce the commitments laid out in its five-year National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, which includes the “promotion of human rights due diligence” through “overseas diplomatic establishments.”  

The government should adopt measures to prevent companies from partnering with abusive business operators in Xinjiang. Lawmakers concerned about this issue should introduce legislation to prohibit the import of goods made by forced labor, and make human rights and environmental due diligence in global supply chains a requirement for all Japanese companies.