Blog: Michelle RussellForced labour issues in Xinjiang rumble on

Michelle Russell | 29 March 2021

The ongoing issue of forced labour in cotton-hub Xinjiang took a number of turns last week, including a backlash by Chinese consumers against Western fashion and footwear brands, calls for boycotts extending to more companies and domestic firms pledging their support for the raw material.

Nike and H&M are among brands that have reportedly come under fire, with Chinese consumers angered by their position statements on Xinjiang.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has sent out letters to a raft of international companies, including those in the apparel and textiles industry, about their potential use of forced labour in China, as companies continue to be urged to conduct reviews of their supply chains.

This comes as legislation is reintroduced in the US that will require publicly traded companies to report any links to Xinjiang forced labour as part of their annual disclosure to investors.

Meanwhile, Britain, the EU, Canada and the US have slapped sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the mass internment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang – a move applauded by footwear, apparel and textile industry bodies.

The coronavirus pandemic has been the catalyst to fundamentally change consumers' shopping habits, offering new opportunities for brands and retailers to engage with new customers in new channels.

UK department store chain John Lewis Partnership has announced plans to close eight stores and look to pilot smaller neighbourhood shops as the retailer continues to find ways to cut costs.

While UK retail sales volumes edged up in February – but clothing retailers continue to be among the hardest-hit, with sales still more than 50% below pre-pandemic levels.

Online fast fashion retailer Boohoo has substantially cut its supplier network following an investigation into its supply chain last year.

Fashion activism movement Fashion Revolution has launched a campaign for greater transparency beyond Tier 1 supply chains, arguing millions around the world are working in often poor conditions to make the fabrics in the clothes we wear.

Italian clothing retailer OVS says it will be suspending production with suppliers in Myanmar that discriminate against workers involved in rallies against the military junta.

Bangladesh saw a decline of nearly 4% in the export of ready-made garments in the first eight months of the year, new figures show.

Jeans giant Kontoor Brands, owner of the Wrangler and Lee brands, is expanding its Indigood programme to include additional water saving technologies in a bid to offer more options for suppliers.

In other news, unions in Haiti are demanding a return to democracy; Stein Fibers has acquired North Carolina-based Consolidated Fibres; and the US textile industry is optimistic as business bounces back.

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