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SHEFFIELD – New research has shown how cotton with links to forced labour in Xinjiang, China, is reaching global supply chains. A study team tracked cotton from Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), which has gained global notoriety for its involvement in rights violations against the marginalised people in the Uyghur Region. Researchers reviewed online cotton wholesale websites to gain insight into the destinations of XPCC cotton. They then mapped all known sites in mainland Chi­na that received cotton from XPCC companies or ware­houses between January and June 2022.

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Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) has gained global notoriety for its involvement in a programme of rights violations against the marginalised people in the Uyghur Region. A Chinese government paramilitary body, XPCC controls approximately a third of the region’s cotton production – five per cent of all cotton globally. It was the main implementing partner of the world’s largest cotton standard, the Better Cotton Initiative, until October 2019.

The new report, ‘Until Nothing Is Left,’ documents in detail the human rights violations of the XPCC. It was produced by researchers at the Helena Kennedy Centre at Sheffield Hallam University.

The report shows how fashion brands face a huge challenge to ensure XPCC cotton is not reaching their collections. This is because XPCC cotton fans out across Mainland China via opaque supply chains.

The researchers mapped known sites in mainland Chi­na that received cotton from XPCC companies or ware­houses between January 1, 2022 and June 30, 2022.

States the report: “This only accounts for the movement of XPCC cotton between warehouses or processors that is recorded on online wholesale sites – there is significantly more cotton that is processed and ginned in the XUAR that is unaccounted for in the online wholesaler sites.

“Even given the limita­tions on available data, however, it is clear that significant amounts of Xinjiang cotton can be traced moving from the XPCC through inland China before being manufac­tured into thread, yarn, or fabric. According to the avail­able data, during the six-month period in 2022 when data was collected, the XPCC moved at least 178,000 metric tons of cotton out of the region bound for markets across China through online wholesale sites alone.”

Interestingly, the report notes that this was ac­tually a decrease of nearly 33 per cent from the same six month period in 2021, when nearly 265,000 metric tons of cotton was moved through online wholesale sites. Could this be evidence that fashion brands have increased their due diligence when dealing with Chinese cotton?

Adds the report: “The majority of this traceable XPCC cotton is transport­ed to logistics firms and storage facilities. This makes it difficult to identify where the cotton supply chain contin­ues. However, understanding these routes to the inland markets is vital for companies who wish to exclude Xin­jiang cotton produced using forced labour or by the XPCC in general.”

The report argues that businesses should end all sourcing from XPCC companies and their subsidiaries, as well as those that source from the XPCC, “pair” with the XPCC, or benefit from XPCC labour transfers, subsidies, or incentives.

It adds that companies should direct suppliers and sub-suppliers to exclude all cotton from warehous­es and logistics firms that have a history of sourc­ing, storing, or transporting XPCC cotton. In addition, the authors call on governments can follow the lead of the United States in issuing an import ban on goods grown, processed, or manu­factured by XPCC and/or in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autono­mous Region.

Full report: Until Nothing is Left | Sheffield Hallam University (shu.ac.uk)

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