New research suggests raw materials produced in Xinjiang are being used in manufacturing in other countries 

New research suggests raw materials produced in Xinjiang are being used in manufacturing in other countries 

New research suggests all supply chains linked to China are at risk of having an association with forced labour and other abuses since raw materials produced in the Xinjiang region are being used in manufacturing in other countries.

The supply chains of apparel brands have already been linked to labour rights abuses in Xinjiang, with reports last year alleging 1m Muslims – Uyghurs, Kazakhs and others – were being detained in internment camps or "re-education centres" and forced to work in manufacturing and food production. Badger Sport, a US performance apparel maker, dropped its Chinese supplier, Hetian Taida Apparel, after being linked to the scandal

But according to global risk analytics company Verisk Maplecroft, there is evidence to suggest these violations could move beyond the sector and even China's borders.

Ryan Aherin, senior commodities analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, says supply chain risks are intensifying for brands sourcing from China due to the expanding use of forced labour in Uighur detention camps in Xinjiang. Not only is the problem ongoing but, given the lack of solid information emerging from the region, standard due diligence practices are unlikely to prevent links to forced labour, as Beijing will likely attempt to mask the traceability of goods and components, he says.

"As more reports emerge about ongoing human rights abuses in China's Xinjiang region against the indigenous Uyghur population, the likelihood of more companies being swept into the controversy over the use of forced and child labour in Xinjiang increases."

Supply chain risks in other apparel manufacturing countries are raised even further since exported raw materials from Xinjiang, including cotton, are also linked to forced labour.

China is the world's largest producer of cotton, and according to China's National Bureau of Statistics 74.4% of its cotton is produced in Xinjiang. According to a commodity risk assessment, Chinese cotton has been directly linked to child and forced labour, as women and children have had to work in the cotton harvest to make up for the lost wages of detained men.  

Due to the prevalence of Chinese cotton in the global apparel industry – China is also a major exporter of cotton-based textiles to other garment producers in the region such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam – links to abuses in Xinjiang are likely to spread well beyond China's borders. Other materials of concern include cashmere wool, which is often imported into the region from Mongolia to be processed in factories.

"Beijing claims that the forced labour engaged at these facilities is vocational training meant to help students integrate into Chinese society and improve their economic well-being," says Aherin. "However, the government line on this won't help the reputation of brands that are found to be associated with widespread violations of the rights of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs.

"Following the emergence of reports about the use of forced labour in the camps, the Chinese government has used state-run media to try and put a more positive spin on the facilities. We researched reports in Chinese language media that contained statements from government officials about the types of 'vocational training' detainees are receiving in the camps. These state that many of the re-education camps provide training in apparel and footwear manufacturing, food processing and electronics manufacturing.

"It is likely that if components for these sectors are being made by detainees, the government will do its best to make them untraceable to other supply chains."

Another concern is that as China expands its Belt and Road initiative, Xinjiang will be a major springboard for Chinese economic activity into Central Asia. The region's importance is one of the driving factors behind Beijing's tightening grip over Uyghur communities – so abuses faced by local communities are also likely to escalate.