A FIFTH of all cotton products come from Uighur slaves and “virtually the entire” fashion industry is “tainted”, human rights groups say.
More than 180 organisations are urging brands from Adidas to Amazon to end sourcing of cotton and clothing from the Xinjiang region and cut ties with any suppliers in China that benefit from forced labour.
This comes amid mounting global pressure on Beijing over its treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in the region including compulsory sterilisation of women, torture and forced separation of families.
United Nations experts estimate that at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centres in Xinjiang – a claim denied by China which says the camps offer vocational training and help fight terrorism.
While most brands do not source from factories in Xinjiang, many of their supply chains are likely to be tainted by cotton exported across China, the rights groups said in a letter.
More than 80 per cent of China’s cotton comes from northwestern Xinjiang, which is home to about 11 million Uighurs.
The human rights coalition said today: “Virtually the entire (global) apparels industry is tainted by forced Uighur and Turkic Muslim labour.”
Chloe Cranston, of Anti-Slavery International, said: “There is a high likelihood that every high street and luxury brand runs the risk of being linked to what is happening to the Uighur people.”
The Chinese embassies in London and Washington did not respond to requests for comment about the campaigners’ letter.
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the United States earlier this month said the accusation of forced labour in Xinjiang was “both false and malicious”.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation sent emailed questions to more than 30 leading global retailers about their supply chains in China and the origins of the cotton they sourced.
Almost all of the brands did not respond directly to the questions, but most said they had anti-forced labour policies and required their suppliers to comply with a code of conduct.
All the companies that responded – including Gap, Patagonia and Zara-owner Inditex – said they did not source from factories in Xinjiang, but the majority could not confirm that their supply chain was free of cotton picked from the region.
US-based PVH – owner of brands from Calvin Klein to Tommy Hilfiger – said it would cut ties with any factories or mills that produce fabric or use cotton from Xinjiang within a year.
Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a global non-profit aiming to improve conditions in the garment sector, said in March it would no longer license so-called Better Cotton from Xinjiang.
Companies such as IKEA and H&M, who use BCI to source cotton, have previously said they backed the decision to suspend licensing in the region and would no longer source from there.
Amid the growing international pressure on China, the US government this month said it blocked an $800,000 shipment of hair extensions from a Xinjiang-based business on suspicions that the goods were made with forced labour.
A New York Times investigation last week found some Chinese companies making face masks to protect against the coronavirus for both domestic and export markets had used Uighur labour.