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18 Nov 2019

Responsible Sourcing Network

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

“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]

Part of the following timelines

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

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

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