Explosive Report Exposes Uyghur Forced Labour Connections in Global Retail Brands’ Supply Chains
November 17, 2021
Research shows Target, Walmart, Lululemon, Kohl’s, Anthropologie, C&A, and Uniqlo could be at risk of violating U.S. bans on cotton from Uyghur Region
Coalition of advocates demand corporations exit the Uyghur Region, urge all governments to introduce strong laws against Uyghur forced labour
WORLDWIDE — Following publication of a groundbreaking study by Sheffield Hallam University’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, detailing global apparel brands’ risk of ties to cotton produced with Uyghur forced labour, the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region demanded corporations and governments take immediate action to ensure supply chains are free of cotton from the Uyghur Region. By analysing link-by-link supply chain connections identified through shipping records, the research shows how cotton from the Uyghur Region circumvents supply standards and import bans to end up on clothing racks around the world. The findings indicate dozens of well-known international brands are at risk of using cotton that is produced or processed by forced labour.
The report, Laundering Cotton: How Xinjiang Cotton is Obscured in International Supply Chains, investigates the supply chains of brands such as Target, Walmart, Lululemon, Kohl’s, Anthropologie (owned by Urban Outfitters), C&A, and Uniqlo. Dr. Laura Murphy and co-authors found that these and other apparel brands are running an extraordinarily high risk that the garments they are importing to the U.S. contain cotton from the Uyghur Region, which, if the case, would be in violation of an import prohibition imposed by the U.S. in January. The report identifies 53 contract garment suppliers—in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Ethiopia, China, and Mexico—that purchase fabric and yarn from five leading Chinese manufacturers that use Uyghur Region cotton. The suppliers use the fabric and yarn in the clothes they make for leading apparel brands, with no indication to consumers of the cotton’s origin.
“This report details, link by link, how some of the world’s most well-known fashion brands are very likely selling products produced with Uyghur forced labour to unwitting consumers,” said Louisa Greve, Director of Global Advocacy at Uyghur Human Rights Project. “This pioneering research makes it clear that only through a firm commitment to exclude Uyghur Region cotton can brands provide any meaningful assurance to consumers and regulators that they are taking all the steps they can to remove the risk from their supply chains. This report leaves leading apparel brands, from Anthropologie to Uniqlo, with nowhere to hide.”
In January 2021, US Customs and Border Protection imposed a Withhold Release Order prohibiting the importation of all cotton goods from the Uyghur Region, unless importers can affirmatively prove that no forced labour was used in the production of the goods. Therefore, the brands’ actions raise not only grave moral concerns, but, if their use of Uyghur Region cotton is proven, could make them an appropriate target for US regulatory and law enforcement authorities. Among other possible consequences is the seizure of future clothing shipments belonging to these brands.
As evidence mounts implicating global apparel brands in the Chinese government’s human rights abuses against the Uyghur people, the Coalition is urging companies to sign the Call to Action—endorsed by over 400 organisations from 40 countries—which sets forth specific steps companies must take to ensure their supply chains are free from Uyghur forced labour.
“All governments around the world should recognise this report as a wake-up call that emphasises the urgency to introduce strong laws to address Uyghur forced labour. These laws must be strong in design and enforcement, making sure companies face real consequences when they fail to take meaningful steps to remove Uyghur forced labour from their supply chains,” said Chloe Cranston, Business and Human Rights Manager at Anti-Slavery International.
The Coalition is also calling on world leaders to enhance restrictions around the import of goods from the Uyghur Region. Legislation such as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the U.S. is critical to putting pressure on the Chinese government to end the cycle of abuse by cutting off demand for materials made with forced labour. Most recently, the Coalition called upon the European Commission to ensure forthcoming proposals on supply chains and forced labour are fit to purpose to tackle corporate complicity in Uyghur forced labour. In light of the findings presented in Laundering Cotton, the Coalition is calling on all governments to adopt such measures and provide greater transparency around enforcement. Governments must answer how they plan to oversee enforcement after uncovering the widespread circumvention in the fashion industry.
About the Coalition
The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region is a coalition of civil society organisations and trade unions united to end state-sponsored forced labour and other egregious human rights abuses against people from the Uyghur Region in China, known to local people as East Turkistan.
The coalition is calling on leading companies to ensure that they are not supporting or benefiting from the pervasive and extensive forced labour of the Uyghur population and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples, perpetrated by the Chinese government.
We call on governments, multi-stakeholder initiatives, companies, and other stakeholders to join us in challenging this abusive system and together build the economic and political pressure on the Chinese government to end forced labour in the Uyghur Region.