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LONDON – An investigation by Apparel Insider has found that the world’s largest and fastest growing cotton standard, the Better Cotton Initiative, for several years used a key Chinese Implementing Partner which is part of an entity widely described as a ‘quasi-military organisation’ with deeply ingrained links to forced and prison labour. Meanwhile, Huafa Fashion, a Chinese textile supplier with strong links to forced labour and which has recently been blacklisted by brands such as H&M, Adidas and Esprit, remains on the BCI Council – a position it will in theory hold until 2022.

At present, the issue of forced labour is addressed by BCI in Principle 6 Criteon 6.3.1 which states: “All forms of forced or compulsory, included bonded or trafficked labour, are prohibited.”

Our investigation included desk-based research and interviews with human rights organisations with expertise on the current Xinjiang situation, where ongoing re-education programmes of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic and religious minorities have been described by some as, “a crime against humanity.”

BCI was working with XPCC Cotton & Linen Company as an implementing partner until October 16. It is part of Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) – known as the Bingtuan in Chinese – which administers its own prison system and associated factories in Xinjiang. The US recently slapped an export ban on XPCC.

A recent report into The XPCC’s Cotton & Linen Company concluded that it, “is very likely [to] handle cotton produced by XPCC prison enterprises.”

BCI has told Apparel Insider XPCC’s links with forced labour were, “not a factor in the decision to terminate the Implementing Partner Agreement.” Instead, it says a restructuring at the organisation had led to challenges in implementing the Better Cotton Standard System.

BCI also told us the BCI Council and governing bodies of the independent Better Cotton Fast Track Programme (BCFTP), consisting of public donors and leading retailer and brand members, reviewed and discussed the risks associated with XPCC in its entirety and the region as a whole prior to approving the programme.

This is surprising to say the least given major red flags have been raised about XPCC for many year by human rights organisations.

Remarkably, Mr Man YickChung, a director of XPCC Cotton Association, continues to hold a position on the board at Textile Exchange.

Louisa Coan Greve is director of global advocacy at the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Greve and her team have considerable expertise on XPCC, an organisation which our research found has long employed prison labour at a large scale, using inmates sent to remote Xinjiang from the rest of China.

XPCC was founded under the orders of Chairman Mao with stated goals to develop frontier regions, promote economic development, ensure social stability and ethnic harmony, and consolidate border defence.

Informed about BCI’s decision to use an XPCC body as an implementing partner, Greve said, “what were they thinking?”

More, including complete BCI response, is available to Apparel Insider subscribers.

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