The bombshell CertainT isotope testing report that found almost a fifth (19%) of US cotton samples had Xinjiang origin as recently as March this year despite the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is, to put it mildly, highly concerning.

The fact that over half of those blends audaciously claimed US origin provides a very literal meaning to the phrase ‘pulling the wool over our eyes’ or should we say ‘cotton’ in this instance.

Gherzi Textil Organization partner Robert P. Antoshak explained that controlling the use of Xinjiang-origin cotton in global supply chains is an extremely difficult task.

“As the yarn-spinning industry is so accustomed to blending cotton from various geographic regions, it is always going to be difficult for authorities to police the origin of cotton — and the offending companies know it,” he said.

Antoshak rightly noted “there is little question” that new technologies must be embraced to curb these unethical practices.

In contrast, China officials seem to be remarkably unfazed by the global criticism of cotton made from Xinjiang, touting surging output and ambitious expansion plans, particularly into Belt and Road nations.

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According to the Global Times, Liang Yong the director of the Xinjiang cotton industry development leadership office said the country will be working on a homegrown cotton quality tracing system and certification system.

He also revealed the nation plans to build “homegrown brands” from its alleged tainted supply of cotton in Xinjiang region, so it will be interesting to see how these products will be marketed overseas.

The same article claimed that in 2023 the overall mechanisation rate for cotton harvesting hit 89% in Xinjiang compared with 21% in 2014.

The implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act has caused a decrease in China’s exports of textiles and clothing to the US, but it would appear this isn’t enough to stop the rise of Xinjiang cotton worldwide or from it accessing the US supply chain.

The issues surrounding forced labour in Xinjiang hits headlines semi-regularly, however it is not an isolated case.

The Cotton Campaign’s recent report claiming forced labour was found in Turkmenistan‘s 2023 harvest serves as a sobering reminder that it does occur elsewhere.

While marginal progress has been made in the region as the authorities did not mobilise teachers and doctors for the harvest, the continued subjugation of other state employees has led the Cotton Campaign to call on fashion brands to stop using the country’s cotton in their supply chains.

To the credit of the NGOs involved, they are not merely reciting problems, but proposing robust solutions – from stricter supply chain monitoring to brands outright banning unethical cotton sources.

Heed their calls, industry leaders, lest your commitment to sustainability rings as hollow as the symbolic white of tainted cotton.

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