Last Thursday, a coalition of more than 180 civil society organizations urged the global apparel industry to stop sourcing in the Xinjiang region of China because of the “serious risk of forced labor.” Human rights activists estimate that at least one million Uighurs and other Muslims are held in prison camps in the region and committed to forced labor. Practices also included torture and forced sterilization.

Xinjiang is one of the largest suppliers of cotton worldwide. Around every fifth cotton product sold worldwide contains cotton and / or yarn from the Xinjiang region. Brands that continue to manufacture products or buy raw materials there support exploitation, the activists said.

The allegations are not new. However, China has denied all allegations so far, saying that the camps are used for vocational training and to help combat terrorism and extremism. In truth, the claims are “an invention of some US and Western institutions and employees,” the Reuters news agency quotes a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London. The allegations have already become part of the ongoing conflict between China and the United States. The US this month hit senior Chinese officials with sanctions over alleged rights abuses against the Uighurs. Also, the US Department of Homeland Security has announced that it would take increased enforcement action against US firms that continued to trade or conduct business in Xinjiang, China. Various US trade associations also said they wanted to continue working on the detection and elimination of forced labor in the supply chain. Britain and France have also condemned forced labor in Xinjiang.

As a result, numerous brands and retailers in the sports and outdoor industry have spoken out against sourcing in the region. “We are deeply saddened and extremely concerned to continue to read reports about forced labor and other human rights abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, China. In accordance with guidance from the Fair Labor Association (FLA), we are actively exiting the Xinjiang region,” commented Cara Chacon, Patagonia’s vice president, social and environmental responsibility. Adidas, VF Corp., H&M, and other international brands have also announced that they will end their sourcing in the region. In March, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) suspended its activities in Xinjiang on the back of concerns over the prevalence of labor abuses in the region.

Photo: © Cecilia Kusel via Unsplash

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