The use of cotton sourced from the Xinjiang region of China, where the Chinese government has allegedly committed human rights violations on the Muslim Uighur minority, has put global fashion and apparel retailers under the scrutiny over ethical sourcing issues.
China ranks among the highest producers of cotton and the largest portion of the cotton is cultivated in the Xinjiang region. According to allegations by rights groups, the Muslim Uighur minority of Xinjiang are being persecuted and recruited for forced labour.
It is believed that many of the known brands have sourced cotton products from the Xinjiang province in China’s far west through indirect methods.
Following a report that highlighted the use of the Xinjiang-origin of their cotton and was used as a selling point in advertisements, there was scrutiny of Japanese retailers Muji and Uniqlo. And according to a Wall Street Journal investigation bog names in the retail and apparel industry including H&M, Esprit and Adidas are allegedly among those companies that have made use of cotton products from Xinjiang through an extended and indirect supply chain,
“You can’t be sure that you don’t have coerced labour in your supply chain if you do cotton business in China,” said Nathan Ruser, researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “Xinjiang labour and what is almost certainly coerced labour is very deeply entrenched into the supply chain that exists in Xinjiang.”
Cast detention camps have been created by the Chinese government to detain more than a million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities form the region, say UN experts and human rights groups. Those people who are detained at these camps are also being forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping and censure or abandon their faith, rights groups also say.
But the Chinese government has said that those people who are alleged to have been kept in detention camps are in fact attending “vocational training centres” so that they get qualified and skilled enough for getting jobs and training to get integrated into the Chinese society – all in an effort to prevent them taking up terrorism.
According to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), about 22 per cent of global cotton supplies are produced in China. The report also said that about the Xinjiang province accounted for 84 per cent of the total cotton production of China last year. That ratio has given rise of suspicions about whether China used forced labor to achieve such as high production rate of cotton in the region.
The Uighurs were being “detained and tormented” and “swept into a vast system of forced labor” in Xinjiang, said Nury Turkel, chairman of the Uighur Human Rights Project in Washington.
Western companies aren’t buying directly from factories in Xinjiang in many cases, said Amy Lehr, director of CSIS Human Rights Initiative. “Rather, the products may go through several stages of transformation after leaving Xinjiang before they are sent to large Western brands,” she said.
(Adapted from BBC.com)