Retailers and consumers alike are called upon to end the fast fashion obsession which relies upon slave labour in China
Uighur women are, according to a BBC report, systematically raped, sexually abused and tortured in detention camps in Xinjiang, where a quarter of the world’s cotton is grown and made into fabric.
Most of us will own at least one item of clothing that was made in this region, at least partly using slave labour. Such an item of apparel would not need to be labelled as ‘Made in China’, as cotton from this region is exported to factories worldwide.
Marks & Spencer has led the way for British retailers by pledging to stop buying cotton made in China’s Xinjiang region using Uighur slave labour. Check the Coalition to End Forced Labour website for a list of retailers who have definitely pledged to refuse slave labour in their supply chains
Earlier this year the USA banned all cotton from Xinjiang forcing clothing manufacturers to reorganise supply chains. At the same time, UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said UK companies above a certain size need to demonstrate that they are eliminating slave labour in their supply chains. At the moment, however, there is no penalty for those who fail to meet this standard.
Many brands are afraid to speak out about this issue through fear of angering the increasingly belligerent Chinese government, which is already waging economic war with Australia and making threatening noises to other countries, including the UK over the breakdown of democracy in Hong Kong.
Cleaning up supply chains is not simple, as many Asian manufacturers keep quiet about the origin of their cotton, whilst auditing factories in Xinjiang itself is impossible.
Such excuses have increasingly worn thin for British consumers, who now they’ve been alerted to the humanitarian crisis in China are keen to ensure their clothing did not come to this country via slave labour.
The only thing you can do right now to be certain that your clothes were not produced using modern day slavery is to buy them from Marks & Spencer, the only signatory to the document pledging to eliminate Uighur cotton. US brand, Reformation, has also signed and ASOS is thought to be considering it as well. This should put sufficient pressure on other leading brands to follow suit.
The ‘Made in Europe’ label on cotton clothes is no guarantee of safety in the supply chain, as there is no large cotton manufacturing base in Europe and fabric has to be imported. Turkey, Pakistan and India will supply some of the fabric and the rest will come from China.
Even cotton labelled ‘organic’ is not necessarily better, unless it has been made in India, in which case you can be sure it was not produced using Uighur slave labour.