By a student campaigner in SOAS Uyghur Solidarity Society
Students in SOAS Uyghur Solidarity Society have launched a week of action, calling on students and workers to join in the action on their respective campuses. Awareness has been growing amongst young people especially through online activism, and so this week aims to turn that awareness into concrete action, to reach out to others in the university community, and carry out public protests to draw attention to and put pressure on those complicit in the genocide.
On Monday 11th October, we will hold public stalls on campuses, distributing information and talking to people about the situation facing Uyghurs and other oppressed minorities in East Turkestan (Xinjiang, China), and encouraging people to get involved in our campaigning. We will also be inviting those we meet to join us two days later, on Wednesday 13th October, when we will hold coordinated demonstrations outside high-street brands who are targets of the End Uyghur Forced Labour Campaign. On Friday 15th we will all come together on an online meeting, to hear from those with more detailed understanding of the situation, and discuss collectively how to continue the campaign.
In London, we will hold our 13th October demonstration at 1pm outside Apple on Regent Street. Apple’s supply chains link it to factories across China to which Uyghurs have been coercively transported and put to work, producing goods destined for high streets across the world. Other prolific culprits who we will be targeting include the vast majority of clothing and fashion brands, such as Adidas, Nike, and even Tesco and Sainsbury’s, whose clothing has been linked to the 20% of the world’s cotton which is picked in Xinjiang, under the conditions of settler-colonialism and intense persecution. The campaign demands that companies:
- Stop sourcing any raw materials, inputs or finished products from the Uyghur Region.
- Cut ties with companies implicated in forced labour – those that have operations in the Uyghur region and have accepted government subsidies and/or government-supplied labour at these operations.
- Prohibit any supplier factories located outside of the Uyghur Region from using Uyghurs or Turkic or Muslim workers supplied through the Chinese government’s forced labour transfer scheme.
Whilst we may sometimes feel far away and powerless in the face of the awful situation, the interconnectedness of global supply chains is a tool in itself with which to dismantle its worst abuses. We take inspiration from the ways that settler-colonialism and racist oppression has been challenged in the past, for example when Irish food workers went on strike in refusal to sell goods produced in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. When we protest outside brands complicit today in the Uyghur genocide, we declare our solidarity with workers inside those shops, calling for them to unionise and organise against their bosses, our common enemy. Students in general interact frequently with these high street fashion and tech brands, and many work part time jobs their on insecure, low wage contracts, so we hope these actions will help establish and strengthen solidarity from students to workers to oppressed peoples in East Turkestan.
These issues have also been leapt upon by the likes of Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith. But our approach has to be very different from the Cold-War-style, militarist, anti-Chinese agitation those powerful people are peddling. Their hypocrisy is obvious when we consider, for instance, their support for the Nationality and Borders Bill. Welcoming and supporting refugees fleeing tyranny and persecution, from China or anywhere else, should be central to any cause like this. But this Bill goes so far as breaking the UN Refugee Convention by restricting asylum and safe routes for refugees fleeing persecution, whilst making an even more hostile environment for those who have been granted leave to stay in the UK. Just this week, the UK government refused to welcome Uyghur exiles at risk of deportation to China from third countries. Videos of Kazakh police arresting Uyghur protesters outside the Chinese embassy, and deportations from Turkey’s large Uyghur community, remind us how urgent and violent this situation is. It is oppressed people’s and workers’ solidarity across borders, not authoritarian, militarised states, that will win true liberation for the Uyghurs.
So whatever your experience thus far with Uyghur solidarity work, there is no better time to get active and organise with students and workers at your university or workplace. For more details on the action week check out @soasuyghursociety on Instagram, or email firstname.lastname@example.org . We can send out action packs with leaflets and flyers for stalls and demonstrations, as well as more advice should you want it!