LONDON – Alarming new research has highlighted intensifying supply chain risks for apparel brands sourcing from Xinjiang and China as a whole amid expanding use of forced labour in Uighur detention camps in Xinjiang. It is claimed that standard due diligence practices are unlikely to prevent links to forced labour, as Beijing will attempt to mask the traceability of goods and components. Exported raw materials from Xinjiang, particularly cotton, are also being linked to child and forced labour, raising supply chain risks in other apparel-manufacturing countries. The research suggests Xinjiang’s importance for the One Belt One Road initiative will further increase supply chain risks.
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The findings, from Verisk Maplecroft, suggest that as more reports emerge about ongoing human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region against the indigenous Uyghur population, the likelihood of more companies being swept into controversy over the use of forced and child labour in Xinjiang increases.
The supply chains of apparel brands have already been linked to labour rights abuses, but there is evidence to suggest these violations could move beyond the sector and even China’s borders, as raw materials produced in Xinjiang are being used in manufacturing in other countries.
Ryan Aherin, senior commodities analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told Apparel Insider: “Ethnic tensions have simmered in Xinjiang for decades, but bloody riots in 2009 marked the beginning of a new chapter of escalating violence that, in turn, triggered a heavy-handed security crackdown. Since then, Beijing has instigated a series of increasingly draconian measures in the far-western ‘autonomous’ region. These include: separating children from their families to indoctrinate them into Han Chinese culture and the mass detention of young adults in custom built internment camps over government fears they may be susceptible to extremist activities.
“Beijing claims that the forced labour engaged at these facilities is vocational training meant to help students integrate into Chinese society and improve their economic well-being. However, the government line on this won’t help the reputation of brands that are found to be associated with widespread violations of the rights of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs.
“The abuses against Uyghur communities in Xinjiang go beyond the use of forced labour in re-education centres. The production of key raw materials from the region, many of which play an important role in all manufacturing in China, is also linked to abuses such as forced and Child labour.
“The greatest raw material risk is linked to the production of cotton. China is the world’s largest producer of cotton and according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics 74 per cent of its cotton is produced in Xinjiang. According to our commodity risk assessment, Chinese cotton has been directly linked to child and forced labour, as women and children have had to work in the cotton harvest to make up for the lost wages of detained men.
“Due to the prevalence of Chinese cotton in the global apparel industry – China is a major exporter of cotton-based textiles to other garment producers in the region such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam – links to abuses in Xinjiang are likely to spread well beyond China’s borders. Other materials to look out for include cashmere wool, which is often imported into the region from Mongolia to be processed in factories.”