Activists and researchers are calling on 82 retailers to commit to sourcing cotton outside of China to take a stand against accusations of forced Uyghur labor
Chinahas been accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
- Activists are pushing companies to "fully extricate their supply chains from the
UyghurRegion," meaning Xinjiang.
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Activists are calling on 82 major apparel and
Beijing has been accused of implementing tactics like government surveillance, forced sterilization, and re-education camps, in a campaign that's been described as "ethnic cleansing." The Chinese government has denied these accusations.
In 2020, the United States banned the import of certain Xinjiang products, including cotton, over concerns about
China's International Press Center did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
"In the Uyghur region, the Chinese government has set up a system of hundreds of internment camps," Laura Murphy, a professor of human rights and contemporary slavery at the Helena Kennedy Center for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University, told Insider. "Every decision any Uyghur person might make in that region is dominated by the knowledge that at any point they could be sent to one of these internment camps."
Murphy added that "it's also against the law for them to refuse participation in a government program."
Under President Joe Biden's administration, the US Treasury Department has sanctioned two high-level Chinese officials over allegations of "genocide and human rights violations" against the Uyghurs. Human Rights Watch has said that China could be detaining as many as 1 million Uyghurs. For its part, the US government has also warned that companies with
The Chinese government has repeatedly denied committing genocide against the Uyghurs.
"These basic facts show that there has never been so-called genocide, forced labour, or religious oppression in Xinjiang," Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the UN Human Rights Council in February, according to Reuters. "Such inflammatory accusations are fabricated out of ignorance and prejudice, they are simply malicious and politically driven hype and couldn't be further from the truth."
Murphy spearheaded the report "Laundering Cotton: How Xinjiang Cotton is Obscured in International Supply Chains." In her research, she initially identified five Chinese companies selling cotton yarn or fabric that was sourced from the Xinjiang region. She then tracked shipments from those five companies, which largely went to apparel manufacturers in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Ethiopia, China, and Mexico. The study then looked into which global companies had ties to those intermediaries, through shipping records, finding that Xinjiang-sourced cotton "circumvents certain supply standards and import bans to end up on clothing racks around the world."
On Tuesday, the Coalition sent an open letter to 82 top retailers and brands that have not yet signed a "call to action" demanding that companies "fully extricate their supply chains from the Uyghur Region." Several brands, including ASOS, Eileen Fisher, the Marks and Spencer Group, and Reformation, have signed onto that pledge.
Insider reached out to all 82 companies who received the letter on November 22. The brands that received the letter included retail and e-commerce giants like Amazon, Carrefour, Costco, Home Depot, Ikea, Jo Ann Stores, Kmart, Kohl's, L.L. Bean, Macy's, Patagonia, Sears, Target, Walmart, and Wayfair. Most of the recipients were apparel brands, including American Eagle Outfitters, Brooks Brothers, Chico's, Duluth Trading, Eddie Bauer, Forever 21, Gap Inc., Guess, Hanes, Hugo Boss, Land's End, Levi Strauss, Lilly Pulitzer, Lucky Brand, Madewell, Marco Polo, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Uniqlo, and Vineyard Vines.
Most did not immediately reply. JCPenney declined to comment.
"We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR)," a Nike spokesperson said in a statement sent to Insider. "Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region."
Spokespersons for C&A, Everlane, Lacoste, L.L. Bean, and Tesco said that their companies' ethical codes for suppliers strictly prohibit the use of forced labor. The L.L. Bean spokesperson said that the company exited Xinjiang in August 2020, and that it has removed "all Chinese cotton from our assortment."
Lacoste said that it has only used cotton originating from the US, Australia, Turkey, and Peru for its 2020 production. An Everlane spokesperson told Insider that "our analysis and records indicate that none of our raw materials, yarns, and fabrics produced in the manufacturing units called out in your report (and otherwise) originate from the XUAR."
Timothy Voit, the vice president of strategic and international sales at textile-manufacturing company Thomaston Mills, told Insider: "We don't source anything from China. We do specify the origin of cotton to be used in any of our products anywhere in our supply chain to exclude the possibility of forced labor from Xinjiang or Xinjiang."
Murphy told Insider that given the sheer enormity of Xinjiang's cotton output, the burden of keeping the fabric off clothing racks should fall on governmental bodies and international corporations, not consumers.
"It is a wake-up call that we need to be much more attentive to where our products come from," Murphy said. "Because otherwise we're complicit in both forced labor and a pretty radical discriminatory global system where the worst consequences fall upon the most marginalized among us."
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