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12 Apr 2021

Finbarr Bermingham, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

Industry experts speak about limitations of Better Cotton Initiative's role in Xinjiang

"Better Cotton Initiative’s fall a cautionary tale of trying to be all things to all people", 12 April 2021

[...] Calls to BCI’s Geneva headquarters have gone unanswered over the past fortnight, spokespeople have stopped responding to emails, its Twitter account has been set to private, and at one point last week, its website was offline. [...]

In the West, BCI is accused of kowtowing to a state-orchestrated denial of alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, after wiping its websites of statements on forced labour.

Its earlier comments, meanwhile, have landed it in hot water in China. The public and state media are demanding that BCI substantiate allegations of forced labour in Xinjiang, where the organisation had been certifying and marketing cotton since 2012.

In October, BCI ceased all field-level activities in Xinjiang, citing “sustained allegations of forced labour and other human rights abuses”, which it said had “contributed to an increasingly untenable operating environment”.

This was in stark contrast to a statement in January 2020, when it told industry publication Apparel Insider that neither its own investigations nor third-party audits found “any evidence of incidences of forced labour on farms within BCI programmes”. [...]

In March, the head of BCI’s Shanghai branch Wu Yan told state broadcaster CCTV that the organisation had never found evidence of forced labour in Xinjiang – a return to its January 2020 position.

The Shanghai office also published two statements on the Chinese social media platform WeChat last month saying it had not found any evidence of forced labour in Xinjiang since audits began in 2012.

The contradictory messaging has not been explained, with detailed questions sent to BCI remaining unanswered. [...]

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