Built on Repression: PVC Building Materials’ Reliance on Labor and Environmental Abuses in the Uyghur Region documents the human and global environmental impacts of this supply chain.
It is a collaborative investigation by Sheffield Hallam University’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice and Material Research L3C, a charitable and educational company based in the United States.
The report focuses on Chinese state-owned Zhongtai Group, which operates four PVC plants in the Uyghur region and whose PVC is in flooring and pipes recently installed in homes, schools and hospitals worldwide. The Group is alleged to have transferred more than 5,000 citizens deemed to be ‘surplus labourers’ into their factories to work. Uyghur citizens in the region are not able to refuse to participate in these labor programs, for fear of being interned or imprisoned in the region’s vast system of extra-judicial incarceration.
Flooring appears to consumers to be made in a factory in Vietnam (Jufeng New Materials), but much of the PVC that the company uses is made in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in plants that have been linked to human rights abuses.
The co-authors have urged companies to trace their supply chains to identify connections to the Uyghur Region and to extract themselves from high-risk contracts.
Next week, a new U.S. law, the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, will prohibit further imports of products with XUAR content.
Laura Murphy, Professor of Human Rights at Sheffield Hallam University said: “Despite growing awareness of the atrocities being committed in the Uyghur Region, products made with forced labour continue to pour across international borders.
“Once the new law comes into force, the question in the U.S. will be what becomes of the millions of square meters of tainted flooring that companies have stockpiled in warehouses and retail stores.”
Co-author Nyrola Elimä, who is also a researcher in Sheffield Hallam’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, reviewed hours of Chinese-state media reports for the study.
She found Chinese officials boasting about how many workers they force to work in their factories against their will.
The report also looked at the environmental impacts of these factories in the XUAR.
The seven PVC factories in the XUAR release an estimated 49 million tons of greenhouse gas per year. The plants also release an estimated 9.3 tons of mercury into the air each year. The estimated 340 tons of mercury consumed for PVC production in the XUAR accounts for 15 per cent of all mercury produced worldwide.
Jim Valette, report co-author and president of Material Research said: “PVC flooring companies in the U.S. are leading purveyors of greenwash, the art of pretending your industry is something it isn’t.
“They are selling cheap floors that look like wood or stone but are made from coal that is turned into plastic in the XUAR. They are profiting from forced labour and extreme pollution in the Uyghur region. The biggest flooring companies in the world don’t bother to tell their consumers anything about this, even as they collaborate with green building advocates on so-called transparency and climate neutrality initiatives.”