Japanese fashion retailer Muji has moved to downplay concerns over its decision to continue to use cotton sourced from Xinjiang, claiming on-site audits are carried out at the cotton farms it uses.

The owner of Muji, Ryohin Keikaku, issued a statement yesterday (14 April), following criticism for continuing to use cotton from the Xinjiang region of China, which is said to use forced labour and other human rights violations against Uyghurs.

Several brands and retailers including VF Corp, Inditex and PVH are said to have quietly removed their own policies against forced labour from their websites. While Muji is among a number of brands, including Asics and Fila, who have said they will continue to use cotton from the region.

An ongoing campaign on Chinese social media is encouraging consumers across the country to boycott companies that have publicly expressed concerns about forced labour and other human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the northwest region of Xinjiang.

In its statement, the Japanese retailer acknowledged receiving many inquiries about Xinjiang – a “vast production area” that is said to account for 80-90% of all cotton produced in China.

“With regard to the approximately 5,000 hectares of farms and other facilities in the Xinjiang region, we grasp the information about the cotton fields and the profiles of the workers and the personnel plans of the farms, and we dispatch an external independent third-party organisation to conduct on-site audits in line with the cotton cultivation schedule. This on-site audit was also conducted last year, and we have not identified any material violations of laws and regulations or our Code of Conduct.

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By GlobalData

“Muji has obtained a global standard certification for the cotton and cotton yarn used in its products in order to specify that they are organic. This certification is conditional on the compliance with international labor conventions established by the International Labor Organization (ILO), the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct (OECD Due Diligence Guidance) through annual audits by third party organisations.”

The company said it also shares its policies related to working environment and the respect for human rights throughout the supply chain with all its partner factories, and conduct factory audits by external independent specialised third-party organisations in line with these international norms.

Muji, which sources organic cotton from countries including India, China, Turkey, and the US, said it was taking “all necessary steps to respect human rights and manage labour standards”. The company said its policy is to cease business relationships if any material violations of laws and regulation or the material violations of our Code of Conduct are confirmed in the production process.

The Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) last week urged all businesses to take extra steps to ensure their supply chains are not linked with the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XUAR), adding audits conducted within the region “cannot be relied upon” and it can be presumed forced labour is at high risk of occurring within any workplace in the region.