Meghan Markle coffee firm bought oat milk from 'police state' Xinjiang

Meghan Markle coffee firm bought oat milk from company based in China’s ‘police state’ Xinjiang province where a million Muslim Uighur people are kept in camps and brutally persecuted

  • The Duchess of Sussex announced she was investing in Clevr Blends last year 
  • Firm imports 19 tons of an ingredient from Chinese supplier in brutal police state
  • Oprah Winfrey has also plugged the coffee company on her social media 

A trendy coffee company financially backed by the Duchess of Sussex has imported tons of a key ingredient from a Chinese supplier based in a brutal police state where an alleged genocide is taking place.

Human rights groups have urged Western companies to cut all business ties with China’s Xinjiang region because of appalling abuses, including the widespread use of forced labour and the detention of a million Uighur Muslims in re-education camps, where it is claimed women are systematically raped.

But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Clevr Blends, which Meghan last year proudly announced she was investing in as she praised its ethically sourced ingredients, has received almost 19 tons of oat milk powder from a company based in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

Hours before the Duchess’s investment was announced, Oprah Winfrey enthusiastically plugged the company on social media to her millions of followers after receiving a basket of their products from a neighbour, ‘M’.

The Duchess of Sussex last year proudly announced she was investing in Clevr Blends as she praised its ethically sourced ingredients

The supplier – Xinjiang Haiyan International Trade – has its head office within four miles of four suspected detention centres, including a possible maximum security prison, and an alleged re-education site.

Fashion giants H&M, Burberry and Marks & Spencer have refused to source cotton from Xinjiang because of concerns over forced labour. 

And last year at least five organisations said they would no longer help companies audit their supply chains in Xinjiang because workers are unable to speak out without fear of reprisals.

There is no evidence to suggest that Xinjiang Haiyan has used forced labour and The Mail on Sunday understands that the oats were neither grown nor processed in Xinjiang. 

When contacted by an undercover reporter, a representative said that the oats are farmed and turned into milk powder in different Chinese provinces, many miles from the Uighur region.

The MoS was told that Clevr Blends stopped working with Xinjiang Haiyan several months ago and now uses a US supplier, which uses Canadian oats. 

It’s understood that Meghan had not been aware of Clevr’s previous relationship with Xinjiang Haiyan.

Publicly available shipping records seen by this newspaper reveal that Clevr received its first of five deliveries of oat milk powder from Xinjiang Haiyan on October 6. 

And its most recent delivery – totalling 8.8 tons – arrived on February 28, according to the US import records provided by data firms Panjiva and Import Genius.

Campaigners last night warned against dealing with Xinjiang-based firms because of the difficulties in confirming that they are not benefiting, if not directly then indirectly, from human rights abuses.

Chloe Cranston of Anti-Slavery International said: ‘It’s virtually impossible to be sure that any workplace in the Uighur region is free from forced labour, so no responsible business should wish to trade with any organisation based there. The situation is a human rights crisis at a level that we haven’t seen since the Second World War and the situation is that companies have to choose whether they want to be on the right side of history or not.

‘Any investor – regardless of who they are – should hold their portfolio companies accountable on their ties to the Uighur region.’

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader whom Beijing last month slapped sanctions on for speaking out against human rights abuses, said: ‘Because Xinjiang is heavily involved in what I call genocide and slave labour, then any business done with that region runs the risk of that being involved with slave labour. So any company that is doing business there shouldn’t do business in Xinjiang.’

Campaigners have warned against dealing with firms based in Xinjiang (pictured)  because of the difficulties in confirming that they are not benefiting, if not directly then indirectly, from human rights abuses

Founded by entrepreneurs Hannah Mendoza and Roger Coppola in Santa Barbara, California, in 2019, Clevr Blends sells instant oat-milk lattes, costing £20 for a packet with 14 servings. 

Its website states that ‘ethics are always at the forefront of our product’, adding: ‘We prioritise working with smaller, family run ingredient suppliers or those with more transparent supply chains.’

In December, the Duchess of Sussex announced she was investing in the brand, telling Fortune magazine: ‘I’m proud to invest in Hannah’s commitment to sourcing ethical ingredients and creating a product that I personally love and [that] has a holistic approach to wellness.’

Clevr’s former supplier Xinjiang Haiyan is based in a business complex in Urumqi. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has pinpointed more than 20 suspected detention centres in the city, including four only a short drive from Xinjiang Haiyan’s office on Pudong Street in the city’s Xinshi district.

The company’s website says all its products come ‘from certified factories’, although it does not detail where any of the more than 300 factories and distributors it says it uses are located. 

The website also says it has a ‘traceability’ system so customers can pinpoint where products and raw materials come from.

However, a prominent picture on the website of a whitewashed industrial building is a stock image used by a string of other Chinese companies, including a uPVC window and door supplier, a manufacturer of massage chairs and a truck manufacturer. 

Xinjiang Haiyan’s company logo appears to have been digitally placed on to the photo to make it appear as if it is emblazoned across the top of the building.

An undercover MoS reporter contacted the company and was told by sales director Catherine Zhang that it could supply 344 tons of oat milk powder a month and that it boasts clients in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Oprah Winfrey also plugged the company on social media to her millions of followers after receiving a basket of their products from a neighbour

The company’s website, the shipping records for Clevr Blends and an invoice for an order of oat milk powder all state the company is based in Urumqi. 

The company sells the product on Alibaba, the Chinese version of Amazon, where its ‘place of origin’ is given as Xinjiang.

But quizzed by the undercover MoS reporter, posing as a potential customer, Ms Zhang said the oats were grown in Inner Mongolia, a different Chinese province, and processed into milk powder in the central Chinese city of Xi’an.

In January, the US accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. Proposed legislation being debated in the US Congress would ban imports from the region, unless it is certified they are not produced with forced labour – something experts believe will be impossible to do.

Penelope Kyritsis, of the Workers Rights Consortium, a Washington DC-based watchdog, warned that dealing with a firm based in Urumqi was a ‘huge red flag’. ‘We take the position that no company should be conducting any business in the Uighur region,’ she said.

Representatives for Meghan did not respond to a request for comment. But sources close to the Duchess of Sussex said she would never work with any organisation that does not uphold the highest ethical standards and human rights protections.

When contacted by this newspaper last week, a representative for Clevr Blends said: ‘I personally have no awareness of this issue, and feel convinced that Clevr would never intentionally hire companies with such practices. Thank you for bringing this to our awareness.’

Xinjiang Haiyan did not respond to a request to comment.

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