China: Ethnic minorities detained in internment camps reportedly subject to forced labour in factories supplying to major apparel brands; Incl. co responses

In December 2018, an investigation by the Associated Press linked US sportswear brand Badger Sport to a factory inside an internment camp in Xinjiang province, China, where Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities are allegedly being subject to forced labour. A UN committee has described Xinjiang province as resembling a "mass internment camp", and estimates more than 1 million Uighurs have been sent to prison or re-education camps. Following the Associated Press report, Badger Sport CEO John Anton said that the company would source sportswear elsewhere while it conducted an investigation. A Sourcing Update from Badger Sport is included below. In January 2019, Badger Sport announced it was severing the relationship with its Xinjiang supplier based on an "abundance of caution" and it would no longer source products from "this region of China."

In July 2019, an investigation by Four Corners identified several more brands as sourcing from Xinjiang. More information can be found in the article linked below. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the brands named in the investigation to respond to allegations of ethnic minorities being subject to forced labour in factories in Xinjiang. Esprit responded that it has instructed suppliers to stop sourcing yarn from the factory highlighted in the Four Corners report, following its own investigation. Adidas responded that it had also asked suppliers to suspend sourcing of yarn from the same factory following its investigation and is waiting on the results of an independent third-party investigation to verify its own findings. IKEA responded that some of its sub-suppliers are in Xinjiang, and that the cotton is sourced according to the Better Cotton Initiative. PVH, UNIQLO, H&M, Cotton On, Nike, Woolworths and Wesfarmers all said they were either investigating or had committed to investigate or review the situation. Factory X and Noni B responded and signposted to their ethical sourcing policies. All of the responses can be found in full below. Glorious Sun (Jeanswest) and Just Group did not respond.

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Article
18 November 2019

Companies urged to uphold corporate responsibility when fighting forced labour in Xinjiang

Author: Catherine Putz, The Diplomat

“Cotton and Corporate Responsibility: Fighting Forced Labor in Xinjiang and Uzbekistan”, 14 Nov 2019

… Various reports and testimonies indicate that Uyghurs and others released from camps are fed into the region’s factories… A number of factors distinguish the cases of Uzbekistan and Xinjiang — not the least of which is the sheer scale and motivation of forced labor in Xinjiang — but the underlying corporate responsibility to not contribute to human rights abuses is a thread worth following…

… Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report noted that two Japanese retailers, Muji and Uniqlo, “raised eyebrows for spruiking ‘Xinjiang Cotton’ products.”

Muji, for example, launched a “Xinjiang Cotton Collection” on May 17 (as the ABC pointed out, the day after the WSJ report came out). Uniqlo, meanwhile, noted in a since-removed advertisement for a button-down that the product was “Made from Xinjiang Cotton, famous for its superb quality.”

Both companies responded to the ABC’s questions: Muji pointed to internal standards, including prohibitions on forced labor, and a planned internal investigation; Uniqlo stated that it “does not have any production partners located in the Xinjiang area.” Even while both companies mentioned Xinjiang in advertisements, there’s a motivation on the corporate level to distance the companies from allegations of forced labor.

… In Xinjiang, where raw cotton is also processed into yarn and cloth, as well as finished goods, the risk of forced labor exists at multiple steps in the creation of a product.

In Central Asia, Uzbekistan has been at the heart of a global campaign to stamp out the use of forced labor in its cotton sector. Under the Cotton Campaign’s Uzbek Cotton Pledge, more than 300 signatory companies have committed to “not knowingly source Uzbek cotton for the manufacturing of any of our products until the Government of Uzbekistan ends the practice of forced child and adult labor in its cotton sector.”

… the Cotton Campaign commented in a press release that the group’s engagement with the government has deepened positively… Uzbekistan pushed for the lifting of the pledge and the boycott of Uzbek cotton, citing progress in eradicating forced child labor and increased government activity to prevent and punish forced adult labor.

… the market pressure generated by the pledge has had considerable impact.

Among the companies cited by the May WSJ report as having supply chains that run through Xinjiang, there are several that have signed on to the Uzbek Cotton Pledge including Adidas, H & M, Gap Inc., and Uniqlo. While the pledge is narrowly targeted at Uzbek cotton, the concept of corporate responsibility that underlines the pledge’s commitments could arguably be extended to China and Xinjiang.

There are considerable differences however, between cases of forced labor in Uzbekistan and Xinjiang…

In response to questions from The Diplomat, Lehr, director of CSIS’s Human Rights Initiative, said that “forced labor in Xinjiang is part of a much wider system of repression and abuse against religious minorities that may rise to the level of crimes against humanity.” Furthermore, “government organized forced labor in Xinjiang occurs not only in cotton production, but in factories, so it affects more parts of the supply chain.”…

“There’s great value in the idea of companies committing to not knowingly source cotton from Xinjiang, and it would be consistent with their commitments to human rights,” Lehr told The Diplomat. “On a practical level, China is more challenging than the Uzbek case because China produces so much of the world’s yarn and apparel. Whether such a move would affect China’s policy in Xinjiang remains to be seen, and would need to be combined with other diplomatic and economic pressure, but it would certainly put companies on the right side of history.”

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Article
18 November 2019

Responsible Sourcing Network proposes initiative to prevent forced labour in Chinese cotton products

Author: Responsible Sourcing Network

“It’s Time Forced Labor in China’s Cotton Production Is Taken Seriously”, 14 Nov 2019

… there has been a growing awareness of the inhumane treatment China has inflicted upon the local Uighur (Uyghur) and Turkic minority Muslim populations in the Xinjiang province… There is evidence that Turkic minorities are forced to labor in many yarn, textile, and apparel production facilities, as well as in the harvesting of cotton in that area. Often, the cotton harvesting is performed by women and children under threat to replace the men that have been sent to the camps. 

… Since China is the second largest producer of cotton in the world, Xinjiang province is responsible for 1 in every 5 bales of cotton produced GLOBALLY…

Examples of forced labor continue to be made public… These reports continue to highlight the systemic forced labor experienced by the Turkic minorities and their direct connection to the global textile industry…

Unfortunately, due to China’s massive economic and political power in the world, criticism and repercussions of the blatant human rights abuses are relatively low…

Regarding cotton production and the known use of forced labor orchestrated by a government, the global fashion industry, led by Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN), has supported the Uzbek Cotton Pledge to encourage the Government of Uzbekistan to change its practices. As a result of the Uzbek Cotton pledge and harnessing global purchasing power, there has been evidence of widespread improvements in reducing forced labor in cotton production. While there is still a long way to go, it is clear that the pledge has had a positive effect on reducing forced labor in Uzbekistan in recent years.

While creating a cotton pledge against China may not be the most digestible in this moment, RSN’s initiative, YESS: Yarn Ethically & Sustainably Sourced, could be the most potent and practical approach to take on forced labor in the Xinjiang cotton fields. Created to drive modern slavery out of cotton production by eliminating the market for cotton produced with forced labor, YESS utilizes the OECD risk-based due diligence approach to verify spinning mills are not sourcing this tainted cotton. Special attention is given to training spinners to implement these due-diligence practices that can stop the flow of cotton into the global supply chain, after which point it is blended with imported cotton and impossible to trace.

For YESS to work in China, farm-level initiatives like BCI need to be robust and credible. We welcome the fact that BCI is analyzing the situation in Xinjiang and has plans to improve its decent work criteria in its standard. Without a credible system on the ground to assure there is no forced labor in its cotton harvesting, apparel brands are at risk of having slave-tainted goods, even if they support BCI. Furthermore, in countries that have a high risk of forced labor, such as China, Pakistan, and others, YESS promotes shipping physical BCI bales to the spinning mills. This is the only way companies can be sure their products are slave-free. Currently BCI uses a mass balance system, which does not have this requirement…

… implementing YESS will help prevent forced labor from being embedded in cotton products coming from China.

As research continues to show, China is a high-risk country for forced labor in cotton production, which needs to be addressed, especially as it continues the intentional oppression of the prison and minority populations. YESS should be part of the solution by creating a market incentive for cotton produced in China that is free of forced labor.

[Also referred to Hetian Taida Apparel, Costco, Verite and FLA]

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Article
22 October 2019

China: Clothes made with cotton produced by forced labour in Xinjiang is likely being sold in US, think tank says

Author: Quartz

“Clothing made by Chinese forced labor is likely being sold in the US”, 22 October 2019

Products made by the forced labor of Chinese Muslims detained in “reeducation” camps in its Xinjiang region could be making their way to the US and other countries.

The concern isn’t just hypothetical. On Oct. 1, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it had halted garments produced by China’s Hetian Taida Apparel from entering the US over concerns they were made with prisoner or forced labor. The AP reported the shipments appear to have been baby pajamas bound for Costco. (Costco says it believes the pajamas were made in a different factory than the one from the CBP detention order.) The same company was shipping clothes to a big supplier of US college bookstores and sports teams from an internment camp in Xinjiang, according to AP investigation…

But the issue is bigger than one apparel firm and can be far harder to trace, because much of the forced labor in Xinjiang is involved in producing cotton rather than finished clothes. This cotton winds its way through a multi-step supply chain that can obscure its origins before potentially being exported to countries such as the US.

In a report… the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, DC, think tank, laid out its concern that this exact scenario is occurring. Forced labor is well-documented in the sprawl of internment camps across Xinjiang in western China…

Xinjiang is also where most of China’s cotton is grown—between 74% and 84%, depending on the estimate. The Uyghur Human Rights Project, a US-based group that advocates for Uyghur rights in China, describes the region as a “cotton gulag” where prison labor is present in all steps of the cotton supply chain.

Cotton products don’t generally ship straight from Xinjiang to the US, though. Instead, the cotton can be turned into yarn and textiles in Xinjiang, other parts of China, or sometimes neighboring countries. US companies buy the yarn, fabrics, or even finished clothes made from the cotton. “Given that Xinjiang provides the vast majority of China’s cotton and industry experts estimate that the majority of that cotton is further transformed into finished and semi-finished products in China, any product from China containing cotton is arguably suspect,” CSIS states.

… risk-analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft warned that, as more reports emerge, “the likelihood of more companies being swept into controversy over the use of forced and child labour in Xinjiang increases.”

Labels including H&M, Adidas, Nike, and more have already had to respond to questions about their connections to Xinjiang’s cotton. Recently, Target Australia and retailer Cotton On declared they would cease buying cotton from the region…

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Article
18 October 2019

Cotton On and Target Australia stop buying cotton from Xinjiang over human rights concerns

Author: Sophie McNeill, Jeanavive McGregor, Michael Walsh, Meredith Griffiths & Echo Hui, ABC News

17 October 2019

Cotton On and Target Australia have stopped sourcing cotton from China's Xinjiang province due to concerns about mass human rights abuses there...

Cotton On Group completed an internal investigation into its supply chain after Four Corners revealed in July that Uyghur Muslims were being rounded up as part of a detention program and forced to work in textile factories in Xinjiang.

[...]

Jeanswest said that an internal investigation in the wake of the Four Corners report found "no evidence that any of our cotton comes from this region".

Cotton On...confirmed that last year that a Cotton On staff member visited the Litai Textiles factory, which is located just 6 kilometres away from a massive re-education camp.

Cotton On said it no longer sourced from Litai Textiles and that it was "absolutely committed to having an ethical supply chain".

...Target Australia said it has now "made the decision to stop orders from that mill".

International brand H&M also works with Huafu but has said that the yarn sourced from the company comes from a facility outside Xinjiang province.

The company told Four Corners that it also requested access to Huafu's spinning facilities inside the province and their investigations "showed no evidence of forced labour".

[...]

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Company response
6 August 2019

Response by Adidas

Author: adidas

We can confirm that Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China does feature in adidas’ global supply chain...

...through the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) adidas is supplied cotton from that region...in six years of third-party verification visits in Xinjiang, there have been no reported cases of forced labour or child labour on BCI licensed farms...

...Adidas holds no direct relationship with the spinning mills that produce the yarn... 

...Huafu...indirectly, supplies yarn to many international apparel brands. On learning of these allegations, we asked our materials suppliers to immediately suspend any sourcing of yarn from Huafu Aksu, to allow us time to investigate...

...we asked for access to audit their spinning facilities in Aksu...Our investigations found no evidence of forced labour, or of government involvement in the hiring of their workforce...Despite these findings our suspension of Huafu Aksu continues pending receipt of a third-party assessment by an independent consultancy specializing in forced labour. We are hopeful that those investigations will verify our own preliminary audit results...

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Company response
6 August 2019

Response by Cotton On

Author: Cotton On Group

...Before partnering with a supplier they, and any subcontracted partners, must adhere to our 14 Rules to Trade which underpins our Ethical Sourcing Program...

...Having traced and audited 100 per cent of our direct suppliers, our program continues to extend its focus to auditing subcontractors within our supply chain.

On becoming aware of the issues raised...we commenced our own investigation. Should we identify any breeches of our 14 Rules to Trade, the Cotton On Group require immediate corrective action to be taken by our suppliers.

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Company response
6 August 2019

Response by Esprit

Author: Esprit

...we take the allegations of forced labor in factories in Xinjiang, China, very seriously and have carried out several investigations. We have concluded that a very small amount of cotton from the Huafu factory in Aksu, Xinjiang was used in a limited number of Esprit garments. Consequently, we have instructed all suppliers to not source yarn from that factory. Esprit does not tolerate the use of forced labor in its supply chain.... 

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Company response
6 August 2019

Response by Factory X (Dangerfield)

Author: Factory X

...Factory X does not accept child or forced labour, and our goal is that no products delivered to Factory X are produced by child or forced labour. Please also see a quote from the Dangerfield statement from ABC News online article: “Australian fashion brand Dangerfield says it sources up to 7 per cent of its cotton from Xinjiang, but that it inspects factories and that its suppliers have signed agreements not to purchase cotton that is produced from forced labour camps.”...

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Company response
6 August 2019

Response by H&M

H&M Group does not accept forced labor being used anywhere in our value chain...A part of the cotton produced in China comes from the Xinjiang region. We have for a long time worked with Better Cotton Initiative, BCI to secure a sustainable production of cotton globally...We are investigating all production facilities to get the full picture, based on the information that is shared with us.

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Company response
6 August 2019

Response by IKEA

Author: IKEA

...We are not aware of any forced labour among our sub suppliers in China and under no circumstance do we accept any form of forced labour in the IKEA value chain...Today, we don’t have any direct IKEA suppliers in Xinjiang but we do have a few sub suppliers in that region and about 15% of our total need for cotton fibre originates from China, Xinjiang region. The cotton is sourced according to...Better Cotton Initiative...

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