China’s Xinjiang region is a crucial cotton production area, producing up to 20% of the world’s cotton. It is a key raw material source for the textile and apparel industry, with many international retailers relying on it.
However, several major fashion brands have now expressed concern over allegations that members of the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority group are being used as forced labour. These brands include Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Converse, Puma, Lacoste and Swedish multinational H&M.
In response, the Chinese Communist Party has set about removing H&M – the world’s second largest retailer – from major e-commerce stores in China and blocking several navigation, review and rating apps.
There have been reports of large-scale detentions, brainwashing, torture, and sexual assault in Xinjiang’s “re-education camps”, and it has long been suspected by rights groups their cotton is a product of slave labor.
According to a survey, at least 570, 000 Uyghurs were forced to pick cotton in 2018 alone. The outside world estimated that as many as two million people were forced to join the militarized cotton picking industry or the local textile industry.
Last September the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) of Switzerland determined that Xinjiang continued to carry out forced labor, prompting brands to issue a statement that it would no longer purchase Xinjiang cotton.
It was suddenly dug up by Chinese media and netizens in recent days, leading them to lash out and declare a boycott. Dozens of multinational companies that had spoken out were also boycotted by China.