Rebecca Rosman/The World
When he won a seat in the European Parliament last year, Raphaël Glucksmann promised something different. His goal was to become "the voice of the voiceless people.”
Raphaël Glucksmann is not your typical politician. In fact, the French activist and journalist will be the first to tell you that he kind of hates politics.
“It’s weird, the political world,” he said, as he raised his eyebrows. “You have people who basically only speak with talking points — they don’t believe in what they say.”
But when he won a seat in the European Parliament last year, Glucksmann promised something different. His goal, he said, “was to be the voice of the voiceless people.”
Glucksmann doesn’t just mean in France. Right now, one of the populations he’s most concerned about is Uighur Muslim people in China.
“You have 3 million people in concentration camps. Just this word — ‘concentration camps’ — should infuriate you, should mobilize you and should prevent you from sleeping at night.”
“You have 3 million people in concentration camps,” he said. “Just this word — ‘concentration camps’ — should infuriate you, should mobilize you and should prevent you from sleeping at night.”
The government insists the camps, mostly located in the northwest Xinjiang region, are reeducation facilities for the country’s Muslim ethnic minority. But rights groups liken them to concentration camps, and multiple sources have found evidence that detainees are subjected to forced labor, sterilization and torture.
Related: Experts: China's Uighur population control meets criteria for genocide
New evidence shows the camps are only expanding. A recent report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) discovered 380 camps in the northwest Xinjiang region, 40% more than previously thought.
None of this, however, has stopped dozens of international retailers from profiting from Uighur forced labor. Last year, ASPI published a list of 83 international retailers that had ties to factories in Xinjiang through their supply chains.
That’s when Glucksmann saw an opportunity. He launched a campaign on social media where he called out the offending brands and called on a generation of mobilized youth to help spread the word.
“When you buy a Zara T-shirt or Nike shoes, that’s when you get close to what’s happening in Xinjiang,” Glucksmann said. “You get close to the concentration camps, you get close to modern slavery of Uighurs because you are wearing them on you.”
Emma Madani is an 18-year-old student who says she learned about the conditions in Uighur camps through Instagram.
Rebecca Rosman/The World
“I stopped buying everything on the list posted on social media.”
“I stopped buying everything [that appeared] on the list posted on social media,” she said.
It’s not an easy task, given the list includes some of the world’s top brands: H&M, Amazon, Samsung and Google.
Today, Madani wears a face mask that says: “Free Uighurs” in French. She’s also one of hundreds of young people who recently gathered in a small corner of eastern Paris for a day of activism organized by the Youth for Climate Action movement.
People handed out food and flyers while others took to the microphone to discuss human rights causes, including the plight of the Uighurs.
Related: How China uses malware to track Muslim Uighurs
“I am more hopeful now before than before,” said Dilnur Reyhan, who was one of the speakers. Reyhan is the president of the European Uyghur Institute and has worked with Glucksmann on his campaign. She says the youth involvement over the past year has made a tremendous difference.
“Before I felt powerless because the genocide is here, and no politicians or governments were responding,” she said. “But now, the situation has changed. Now, I know even as simple citizens, each of us has power.”
Courtesy of Dilnur Reyhan
Glucksmann has been able to harness that power and convince some brands — including H&M and Lacoste — to cut their ties with Xinjiang.
But he says other brands will only change if they’re forced by law.
That’s why he’s working on a legislative proposal that would require any retailers that want to sell in Europe to remove forced labor from their supply chains. Otherwise, they could be fined or go to jail.
“If you [implement forced labor] in France you would go to jail directly. So, why on earth would [brands] think they can escape any form of penal responsibility if they do it in China.”
“If you [implement forced labor] in France you would go to jail directly,” Glucksmann said. “So, why on earth would [brands] think they can escape any form of penal responsibility if they do it in China.”
Last month, the Trump administration passed a law restricting imports of certain products from Xinjiang, citing forced labor.
Even though he says he’s not a fan of his politics, Glucksmann quickly applauded Trump for the ban.
Related: Uighur diaspora artists promote their culture, despite China crackdown
“He represents everything I reject,” Glucksmann said. “But I don’t care. For me, human rights are more important than my vision of the world so, if he does something right, I will say it.”
But he also says leaders in Europe shouldn’t let Trump be the face of the campaign against human rights violations in Xinjiang.
“I think European leaders should die out of shame,” Glucksmann said. “They let Donald Trump be a leader on confronting the most massive human rights violation in today’s world.”
That’s why Glucksmann says, for now, he’s focused on mobilizing everyday citizens.
The next time someone wears Adidas shoes or a dress from The Gap, he wants them to think about where the product came from.
If they’re disturbed with what they discover, he hopes they’ll heed his call to action.
Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.