// New report investigates claim of forced labour in cotton mills in Xinjiang, China
// Western brands including Adidas, Esprit and H&M linked to Xinjiang cotton supply chains
// Researches say coerced labour is “deeply entrenched” in Xianjiang’s cotton industry
A new report detailing the alleged use of forced labour at Chinese cotton production plants has brought Western fashion brands and their supply chains under renewed scrutiny.
Adidas, H&M and Gap were described by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) as among those at the end of supply chains beginning in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang.
According to the WSJ’s investigation, Xinjiang residents are routinely forced into programmes to supply workers to local factories.
As one of the world’s largest cotton producers, Xianjiang is a key hub of the country’s cotton production, with around 84 per cent of China’s cotton originating in the area.
Now human rights groups are claiming Xinjiang’s Uighur minority are being persecuted and recruited for forced labour in these factories.
“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, speaking to the BBC.
“Xinjiang labour and what is almost certainly coerced labour is very deeply entrenched into the supply chain that exists in Xinjiang,” Ruser added.
According to UN experts and human rights groups, China is thought to be holding more than a million Uighurs and other ethnic minority groups in huge detention camps.
Speaking to the BBC, CSIS Human Rights Initiative director Amy Lehr noted that many Western companies would not be buying directly from factories in Xinjiang:
“Rather, the products may go through several stages of transformation after leaving Xinjiang before they are sent to large Western brands,” Lehr explained.
According to the WSJ report, yarn made in the Huafu Fashion mill in Aksu, Xinjiang, was present in the supply chains of several international retailers including H&M, Esprit and Adidas.
Other brands, such as Muji and Uniqlo, have previously launched Xinjiang Cotton collections and highlight its use in advertising.
After much public attention, Uniqlo later removed references to the region from its advertising, stating to the BBC:
“Uniqlo does not have any production partners located in the Xinjiang region. Moreover, Uniqlo production partners must commit to our strict company code of conduct”.