Xinjiang, an area in China has recently been in the spotlight over human rights abuses.

Xinjiang, an area in China has recently been in the spotlight over human rights abuses.

A handful of major names in the apparel industry have reacted to allegations they are involved in cotton supplies sourced from Xinjiang, an area in China that has recently been in the spotlight over human rights abuses.

According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, brands including H&M, Esprit, Adidas are among firms at the end of supply chains involving cotton products from Xinjiang.

The report suggests yarn produced at the Huafu Fashion mill in Xinjiang was present in the supply chains of the brands.

Last month a report was published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) suggesting Xinjiang produced 84% of China's cotton in 2018. Production is increasing due to government subsidies, the report explains. China exports less than 1% of its cotton, indicating that the vast majority is consumed internally, including in the production of textiles and apparel. 

Currently, 43% of Xinjiang's exports are apparel, footwear, or textiles – although most finished products are sent to Central Asia – and this percentage is likely to increase.

US and European companies source significant quantities of apparel from China. For example, China supplies 33.7% of the apparel entering the US, making it the largest exporter of apparel to the US market. In the past two years, the US has received around 224,000 shipments of textile and garment items containing cotton, wool or cashmere from China, with shipments continuing well after allegations of forced labour in Xinjiang emerged, the report says.

Last December, US performance apparel maker Badger Sport dropped the Chinese supplier alleged to be using forced labour in Xinjiang's internment camps. 

But in a comment to just-style, a spokesperson for H&M said the group "strictly prohibits" forced, bonded, prison or illegal labour in its supply chain and confirmed it does not work with any garment manufacturer in Xinjiang.

"We work with suppliers in all production markets in the same way, ensuring that they all sign and follow our Sustainability Commitment (code of conduct). We have due diligence processes in place which aim to identify and address any risk of forced labour and we always take action when we receive information related to that. However, due to the complexities of detecting and preventing forced labour in a complex global supply chain, we believe collaboration and information sharing with suppliers, NGOs and other stakeholders, is the best way to assess any problems and to collectively address them.

"We have for a long time worked with Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to secure sustainable production of cotton globally and we are in close dialogue with BCI on this matter."

A spokesperson for Adidas told just-style it too prohibits the use of any form of forced labour, including prison labour, across all of its company operations and in its global supply chain. It added it has no contractual relationship with any subsidiary of Huafu Fashion Co., nor a direct contractual relationship with any supplier in Xinjiang.

"Through hundreds of annual factory audits, we ensure that suppliers comply with our Workplace Standards. Where we become aware of allegations that would potentially breach our Workplace Standards we conduct additional fact-finding missions and on-site assessments. Such assessments can relate to any process in the upstream or downstream supply chain.

"We take claims of the nature made very seriously and while we do not have a contractual relationship with Huafu Fashion Co., or any direct leverage with this business entity or its subsidiary, we are currently investigating these claims. Our direct suppliers are also obliged to cascade our standards to their subcontractors.

"Additionally, we advised our material suppliers to place no orders with Huafu until we have completed those investigations."

A spokesperson for Esprit added it had made "several investigations" when the allegations were made earlier this year.

"We concluded that a very small amount of cotton from a Huafu factory in Xinjiang was used in a limited number of Esprit garments. Esprit instructed all suppliers to not source Huafu yarn from Aksu.

"Since we learned about the allegations, Esprit reminded all suppliers that the use of forced labour is strictly prohibited under the Esprit Supplier Code of Conduct. We have also developed a new strengthened provision on forced labour which is obligatory to all our suppliers. We are continuing to closely monitor this concerning situation."

A BBC report also noted some brands are "very open" about sourcing material from Xinjiang, naming Fast Retailing's Uniqlo as one who had named the  Xinjiang region in an advertisment for men's shirts, "famous for its superb quality".

The reference has since been removed "given the complexity of this issue", a spokesperson confirmed. 

"We would like to re-emphasise that Uniqlo does not have any production partners located in the Xinjiang region," the spokesperson added.