Top Stories

December 15, 2020

Human Rights 

More than half a million ethnic minorities forced to pick cotton in China, report suggests

New research has suggested that over half a million people from ethnic minority groups in the Chinese province of Xinjiang have been coerced into picking cotton, on a scale far greater than previously thought. The report, released by the Center for Global Policy, states there is significant evidence that cotton picked in Xinjiang is “tainted” by human rights abuses, including suspected forced labour of Uighur and other Turkic Muslim minority people. The Xinjiang region produces more than 20% of the world’s cotton and 84% of China’s total. China’s treatment of minority populations – including the mass internment of people in re-education camps, enforced sterilisation of women, technological and human surveillance – has been labelled cultural genocide by analysts. (The Guardian) 


M&S gears up for major relaunch of ‘Plan A’ sustainability strategy  

UK retailer M&S has announced plans to reboot its high-profile ‘Plan A’ sustainability programme next year after setting up a new board-level committee dedicated solely to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. In the 13 years since the original Plan A was launched, M&S has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 70 per cent, in addition to achieving a host of sustainability targets related to plastic, waste, and sourcing, M&S said. However, the retail sector is now under more pressure than ever before to ramp up efforts to put itself on a net zero emission decarbonisation trajectory and slash the environmental impacts of its supply chain. (Business Green) 


California urges court to compel Amazon to comply with coronavirus probe

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has petitioned a court to force tech giant Amazon to comply with outstanding subpoenas over a state investigation into its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The petition, filed with the Sacramento County Superior Court, accused Amazon of failing to adequately follow the state’s information requests as part of an investigation into the company’s coronavirus protocols and status of COVID-19 cases at its California facilities. The subpoenas seek information about Amazon’s sick-leave policies, sanitation measures and data about the spread of the virus at the company’s California warehouses, the petition said. Amazon has said it complied with state law. More than 19,000 of its US staff have contracted COVID-19, Amazon said in October. (Reuters) 


US car workers union agrees clean-up deal after corruption scandal

The United Auto Workers, one of the most powerful unions in the US, has agreed to a wide-ranging settlement with the Department of Justice (DoJ) designed to clean up the organisation after a multiyear corruption investigation that has led to more than a dozen criminal convictions. The DoJ secured 15 convictions for fraud and corruption crimes, including two union presidents and three executives from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Various union officials took $3.5m in payments from FCA executives, embezzled more than $1.5m in union members’ dues, or received millions in kickbacks from contractors. The independent monitor, to be appointed by a federal judge, will have the authority to investigate fraud or corruption within the union and to discipline UAW officers or members. (Financial Times)* 


Australia warns China coal ban will contravene WTO rules

Canberra has asked Beijing to clarify whether it has formally banned Australian coal, warning that such a move would breach World Trade Organization rules and harm both countries. The development follows Beijing’s imposition of informal trade sanctions, which have left dozens of cargo ships carrying Australian coal stranded off the Chinese coast and unable to unload shipments, in some cases for months. Australian thermal coal exports fell by 14 per cent year on year in the third quarter with shipments to China dropping by more than 50 per cent, according to Fitch, which said that Chinese purchasers of coal have used up most of their government import quotas. (Financial Times)* 

*Subscription required