Five supply chain auditing giants have said they will not help companies vet their supply chains in China's Xinjiang regions due to the complexity of determining whether they are involved in forced labour of Uyghur Muslims.

A report from the Wall Street Journal said the five organisations are France's Bureau Veritas, Germany's TÜV SÜD AG, Italy's RINA SpA, and Sumera LLC and WRAP in the US.

The report also added the Chinese government has detained auditors trying to conduct inspections in the region, and it is mandating a state-appointed interpreter, who might lie to the auditors. Further, even if the auditors could get interviews with the workers, those workers might be hesitant to fully explain their situation, out of fear of reprisal.

It is estimated that 80% of China's cotton is produced in the Uyghur region, representing around 22% of the global market in 2018-19, much of which is made into yarn used in textile and apparel produced in the region, and other factories globally.  

Earlier this week the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to take comprehensive action against the import of apparel and other goods from China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on the back of concerns products made in the Uyghur Region, or containing inputs from the region, were made using forced labour. 

The US had previously imposed five new Withhold Release Orders (WRO) were issued on products imported into the United States from China – including apparel items and cotton linked to the Xinjiang region. 

Last week, the CEO of AAFA warned US lawmakers a total US import ban on cotton products from the Xinjiang region over forced labour concerns would "wreak unending havoc" on global supply chains. 

Meanwhile, China has hit back at allegations over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang by saying its actions in the region are focused on counterterrorism and anti-separatism.

A spokesperson for WRAP told just-style the body only certifies individual production facilities, not entire supply chains, but normal social compliance audits cannot be conducted in the XUAR due to restrictions on the movement of third-party auditors, including restrictions that prevent the necessary amount of access to factories required for auditors to conduct a satisfactory review.

"As a result, WRAP is not presently performing audits in the XUAR. While suspending audits is not desirable, auditors' safety and unfettered access to the facilities to be inspected are both essential to conduct audits credibly. WRAP supports government-to-government communication to address labor and transparency concerns in the XUAR and we welcome the opportunity to resume social compliance monitoring there when conditions allow the performance of audits according to WRAP standards."

A spokesperson for RINA said it had never carried out auditing activities in Xinjiang and "the situation is not compatible with our auditing activities."

None of the other auditors responded to just-style's request for comment at time of press.