Cotton and Corporate Responsibility: Fighting Forced Labor in Xinjiang and Uzbekistan

By Catherine Putz
November 14, 2019

Japanese retailers Muji and Uniqlo have come under criticism recently for sourcing cotton from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has reportedly interned more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, including Kazakhs and Kyrgyz.

The Wall Street Journal reported back in May on a bevvy of companies whose supply chains run through Xinjiang. Various reports and testimonies indicate that Uyghurs and others released from camps are fed into the region’s factories. A number of the companies mentioned in the WSJ and subsequent reports have previously signed a pledge to not knowingly source cotton from Uzbekistan due to forced labor in the country’s cotton industry. 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.