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July 26, 2022

Esquel workers globally pay price for US ‘shoddy enforcement action’

Garment manufacturing giant Esquel Group has lashed out after after a bid to remove one of its Xinjiang-based suppliers from the US Entity List was denied by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, saying the enforcement action is “shoddy” and based on “a convenient trope”.

By Hannah Abdulla

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Changji Esquel, a subsidiary of the Esquel Group which runs a spinning mill in the Uyghur Region, should stay on the Commerce Department’s Entity List.

In July Esquel sued the US government after it alleged it had been harmed by the placement of its subsidiary Changji Esquel Textile Co., on the US Entity List, a list of 11 Chinese entities allegedly implicated in human rights abuses in Xinjiang, three of which were textile and garment factories.

In a statement at the end of August, Esquel said the US Department of Commerce and the group had been unable to reach a resolution “despite good faith efforts” because the US government “is unable to provide any concrete timeline by which it could finally remove CJE from the Entity List.”

Then in October, Esquel Group said it continued to suffer “substantial, ongoing, and irreparable harms from the mistaken listing of Changji Esquel on the US Entity List,” leading to a decision to close two factories in Mauritius.

Campaign groups including Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) say the court made the right decision.

“Esquel’s attempt to undermine the use of the Entity List for this fundamental purpose would harm the US government’s whole approach to combatting the egregious, state-sponsored forced labour of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim people, which we point to in our brief,” said Allison Gill, forced labor program director at Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum.

“Companies operating in the Uyghur Region can’t conduct credible due diligence to exclude forced labour of Uyghurs. Instead of defending the indefensible, Esquel should focus on moving its supply chain out of the region as called for by Uyghur labour and human rights groups.”

But in correspondence to Just Style, a spokesperson for the Esquel Group said the company is “disappointed” by the ruling.

“The US government’s victory here is narrow and only relates to the basic authority of the Department of Commerce to list Changji Esquel and not the factual arguments in our case, as was affirmed by the appellate court’s ruling. Multiple judges throughout this case have questioned the lack of substantiated evidence and the questionable rationale and process for placing Changji Esquel on the Entity List. 

“This ruling does nothing to undo the harm caused to thousands of innocent workers globally whose livelihoods have been destroyed as a result of US government overreach, which was based on a single passing reference to Esquel in a media article. Garment workers and communities across Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Malaysia have borne the cost of the US government’s shoddy enforcement action, which relied on a convenient trope, paltry evidence, and poor fact-finding.  

“Esquel never sought litigation; we have instead spent the past two years urging the US government to correct its erroneous and unlawful decision to add Changji Esquel to the Entity List, and thus to bring an end to the severe harms caused by the government’s mistaken listing. Through these efforts, in late July 2021, the Commerce Department’s End-User Review Committee agreed unanimously to conditionally remove Changji Esquel from the Entity List.  We will continue to press the government, present the facts, and remove Changji Esquel from the Entity List.”

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