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21 Jun 2022

Fleur Britten, The Guardian (UK)

USA: Fashion industry explores supply chain digitalisation as Uyghur forced labour ban comes into force

"US ban on cotton from forced Uyghur labour comes into force" 21 June 2022

The fashion industry has been told it must wean itself off cotton from China’s Xinjiang region, as a new law comes into force giving US border authorities greater powers to block or seize goods linked to forced labour in China.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which comes into force today, assumes that any product partly or wholly made in Xinjiang, north-west China, is linked to the region’s labour camps. Since 2017, the Chinese authorities have detained as many as one million Uyghurs and subjected them to forced labour. [...]

The UFLPA has designated cotton a “high priority for enforcement”, along with tomatoes and polysilicon. Any British or EU fashion brand exporting to the US will also be subject to it, and failure to provide adequate certification or supply-chain details may result in fines of up to $250,000 (£205,000).

However, the ban poses big problems for the industry. Liv Simpliciano of Fashion Revolution said Xinjiang cotton is ubiquitous in supply chains. “The difficulty is that at the ginning stage [when fibres are separated from their seeds], cotton from disparate locations is mixed together, making it impossible to trace the provenance,” she said.

A number of technology companies, among them TrusTrace, SupplyShift and TextileGenesis, plan to use blockchain and artificial intelligence to trace supply chains for fashion labels. Brands can use the platforms to log all their purchase orders and certifications.

In order to prove conclusively an absence of Xinjiang cotton, brands would need to show a “complete digital chain of custody”, said Shameek Ghosh, chief executive of TrusTrace – “where a brand is fully in control of its supply chain from the farm onwards”. [...]

Part of the following timelines

China: 83 major brands implicated in report on forced labour of ethnic minorities from Xinjiang assigned to factories across provinces; Includes company responses

China: Mounting concerns over forced labour in Xinjiang

Brands face boycott in China over decision not to source Xinjiang cotton due to allegations of forced labour

USA: Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act comes into effect