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June 1, 2021updated 02 Jun 2021 1:10pm

BCI coy on Xinjiang transparency failure allegations

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) has reportedly "scrubbed" statements from its website that stated its position on the situation in Xinjiang.

By Hannah Abdulla

The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region says the continued silence of the BCI over Xinjiang is putting the credibility of itself and its members at risk.

It also “taints all brands and retailers that use BCI cotton as an ethical alternative in an industry widely tainted by forced labour, as well as the farmers who trust BCI to take a stand for ‘better cotton’ production,” said the Coalition.

“In failing to be transparent and public on BCI’s rationale for exiting the Uyghur Region, BCI is putting at risk any credibility it could have in its commitment to ensure that decent work is embedded across its global cotton sustainability programme.”

In March 2020 the BCI said it was suspending its license and assurance activities in the Uyghur Region for the then upcoming cotton season (2020-21). It blamed the move on the recognition that the operating environment prevents credible assurance and licensing from being executed.

In October, it ceased all field-level activities in the Uyghur Region, stating: “Sustained allegations of forced labour and other human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China have contributed to an increasingly untenable operating environment, and BCI has, therefore, taken the decision to cease all field-level activities in the region effective immediately, including capacity building and data monitoring and reporting.”

The Coalition claims BCI has since deleted all public statements on and references to the decisions to exit the Uyghur region. This follows a backlash in China which saw consumers in the country threaten to boycott brands including Nike and H&M, angered by their position statements on Xinjiang.

Chinese media reports suggested several Chinese actors terminated contracts with the brands and the H&M store was not accessible from Alibaba’s Tmall platform. Searches for H&M products on platforms and Pinduoduo no longer showed any results.

“By continuing to operate in China without being clear on its zero tolerance for forced labour and its rationale for exiting the Uyghur Region, BCI is allowing itself to be used by the Chinese government to claim that business can go on as usual and to deny the ongoing crimes against humanity, including widespread and systematic forced labour, in the Uyghur Region,” said the Coalition.

“Further, continued silence by BCI taints all brands and retailers that use BCI cotton as an ethical alternative in an industry widely tainted by forced labour, as well as the farmers who trust BCI to take a stand for ‘better cotton’ production everywhere.

“The Coalition urges BCI to, without delay, republish all previous statements, and to issue a new statement that clarifies that BCI’s rationale for exiting the Uyghur Region was based on the ongoing and credible evidence by numerous sources of systematic forced labour in the Uyghur Region. The Coalition further urges BCI to continue to assess the enabling environment for its operations throughout China.”

In an email to just-style, a spokesperson for BCI said it “cannot provide input at this time.”

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