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Stora Enso to stop pulp production after Xinjiang concerns reported

Finland has supplied most of the pulp used to make viscose in factories near China's Uighur forced labour and retraining camps.

Enocellin sellutehdas Joensuun Uimaharjussa.
File photo of Stora Esno's Uimaharju plant in Joensuu, Finland. Image: Heikki Haapalainen / Yle
Yle News

Finnish forestry products company Stora Enso says it plans to stop producing wood pulp in Joensuu for strategic and economic reasons, but did not confirm ethical factors played a role despite recent adverse publicity about exports to China.

The company has exported pulp for use in Xinjiang, China, a region where the minority Uighur population has faced severe human rights violations and forced labour practices, according to media reports.

Stora Enso's decision to shut down pulp production at its plant in Joensuu came after the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that most of the chemical wood pulp material used in Xinjiang came from Finland.

According to SCMP, a hazardous chemical process is utilised to transform the pulp into viscose — also known as rayon — a material used in the textile industry.

Production of the material takes place at giant factories operated by the firm Zhongtai Chemical, located very near China's Uighur labour and retraining camps, the news outlet reported.

SCMP noted that since 2017, Finland had exported roughly 311 million euros worth of the pulp to the region, according to Chinese customs data.

International observers and human rights groups have reported on the ill treatment of the minority Uighur population. It is estimated that at least one million Uighurs were currently being held in detention centres, where forced labour and the sterilisation of women occurs.

China has denied the allegations of forced labour and human rights violations.

Abuses called out

In a tweet (siirryt toiseen palveluun)in February, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP), said that China had violated human rights and oppressed minorities, adding that doing business "was no reason to turn a blind eye to these atrocities."

Meanwhile, last month, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, decried the rights abuses in Xinjiang. Additionally, the US, Canada and the Netherlands have compared China's activities in the region to acts of genocide.

Stora Enso declined a request by Yle for comment on the story. However, in an email the company's CFO and Finland country manager, Seppo Parvi, stated that the company already had plans last year to spin off its soluble pulp segment for viscose production.

According to STT, the firm said it looked at the matter from economic and sustainability perspectives, adding that the decision to stop production at its Joensuu plant would not affect staff levels at the facility.

In its report, SCMP noted that a Stora Enso spokesperson said company representatives had regularly visited Zhongtai Chemical factories and never saw an indication of forced labour taking place at the facilities.

However, the news outlet noted, the spokesperson said Stora Enso was deeply concerned about the reports of forced labour and discrimination of minorities in Xinjiang.

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