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CALIFORNIA – US outdoor brand Patagonia has announced it is exiting the Xinjiang region of China due to concerns about forced labour and other labour rights abuses against the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. The news comes on the back calls last week by an 180-strong coalition of civility society organisations for apparel brands to give a 12-month timeframe to fully extract their supply chains from Uyghur region of China (XUAR).

The coalition claims that brands such as Patagonia, Nike and Eileen Fisher, which have ongoing supply chain ties with the Uyghur region of China (XUAR), are ‘complicit’ in human rights atrocities among Uyghurs and other Muslim people of Xinjiang.

Patagonia’s announcement appears wholly disingenuous given that grave concerns around Xinjiang have been in the public domain for several years. How the company has maintained a straight face these past few years while pronouncing its organic cotton from this region as “more sustainable” is a question only executives at Patagonia itself would be able to answer.

In a statement, Patagonia said: “We are deeply saddened and extremely concerned to continue to read reports about forced labour and other human rights abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, China. In accordance with guidance from the Fair Labour Association (FLA), we are actively exiting the Xinjiang region.

“To achieve this, Patagonia has done the painstaking and important work of mapping the source of our products to the farm level, and we are constantly working to ensure that all of our products are built without human rights abuses and with the smallest environmental footprint possible. We have also communicated to our global suppliers that both fiber and manufacturing in Xinjiang is prohibited. Our supplier vetting process is enforcing this mandate, and we encourage you to review the FLA’s March 9, 2020 directive for more information.”

United Nations experts estimate at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centres in Xinjiang. China has denied mistreatment and said the camps offer ‘vocational training’ – a euphemism if ever there was one – and help to fight terrorism and extremism.

The United States recently hit senior Chinese officials with sanctions over alleged rights abuses against the Uighurs, and Britain and France have also condemned their treatment.

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