Due to credible reports of forced labor involving the Uyghur and Kazakah ethnic groups in China’s Xinjiang Province there is a current ban on import of both raw cotton and goods containing cotton from the Xinjiang Province. The ban, known as a “withhold release order,” also applies to products processed or manufactured in third countries. This ban follows a December ban on cotton products from China’s largest producer, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).
The Uyghur and Kasakh ethnic minorities have long been discriminated against in China, but conditions have worsened to now include widespread forced labor and even what have been described by human rights organizations as concentration camps. China says these camps are “reeducation camps for extremists.” That frankly is BS, since the Chinese government appears to describe all Uyghurs as terrorists.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency said they had determined the existence of six indicators of forced labour in Xinjiang, as defined by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization: debt bondage; restriction of movement; isolation; intimidation and threats; the withholding of wages; and abusive working and living conditions. The director stated, “It’s crystal clear that the Chinese government is executing a campaign of repression targeting the Uygur people and other ethnic and religious minority groups,”
Since the Xinjiang region produces up to 20% of the world’s cotton, and some reports indicate that as much as 20 billion dollars of products come into the USA that involve cotton from the region, this will have ramifications on the garment industry. Even if companies don’t use Xinjiang cotton, having it removed from the world supply is likely to cause shortages and price increases.
Other ramifications of this ban are that increasingly governments and consumers are going to be looking at the ethics of production of textiles including sustainability, organic methods, and labor issues. Supply chains are going to have to become more transparent. Forensic methods are going to increase which may include analysis of pollen to determine origin, satellite imagery, and supply chain documentation.
This big move is just part of a future where folks will increasingly be demanding to know where, by whom, and by what methods their clothes are made.