Any Western company doing business in Xinjiang should consider their supply chains tainted by forced labor drawn from internment camps.
Hardly a drop in the ocean of the vast global economy, this involves companies such as IKEA, H&M, Volkswagen and Siemens.
Last month, the US banned the import of products made by a firm in Xinjiang over its use of forced labor. It also blacklisted 28 Chinese entities for their role in the repression of Uighurs and issued visa restrictions on key Chinese officials. Following suit, two major Australian companies have now also announced they are ending partnership with their cotton supplier in Xinjiang.
These are welcome steps, but the US and Australia are not the only countries with business interests in Xinjiang. It is time for a global blacklist on all goods produced or manufactured in Xinjiang.
The UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination has called Xinjiang a “no rights zone” amid the mass detention of several million ethnic and religious minorities.
China claims they are mostly “vocational training centers.” However, encircled by barbed wire, surveillance cameras and armed guards, in reality many are labor camps where Uighur, Kazakh and other minorities are forced to work for little or no pay.
Many foreign companies appear to be benefiting from this. By one estimate, nearly half of Europe’s 150 largest companies have some presence in Xinjiang. The region accounts for 84 percent of Chinese cotton production, as detailed in a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. China is the world’s largest cotton exporter, accounting for 26 percent of global exports.
The concerns extend well beyond textiles and affect multiple supply chains. According to the Wall Street Journal, Adidas, Kraft Heinz, Coca-Cola and Gap have or continue to source from Xinjiang. Volkswagen has had a manufacturing plant in Xinjiang since 2013, and in April this year its chief executive sparked condemnation when he claimed ignorance of China’s mass detention in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is also a major source of tomato paste for many leading international brands.
However, let us return to the US ban, specifically on a company called Hetian Taida Apparel and Australian cotton imports.
Late last year, The Associated Press revealed that North Carolina-based Badger Sportswear was sourcing from a Hetian Taida factory inside an internment camp in Xinjiang. After revelations of forced labor, many universities pulled Badger merchandise, and in January the company announced it was ending the partnership.
The question is: How did a major American apparel distributor end up in bed with forced labor in China? A Workers Rights Consortium report found Badger failed to perform a labor rights assessment and actually concealed the factory as a supplier. The company chose profit over human rights, and they have not been alone.
An Australian Broadcasting Corp investigation this summer revealed six major retailers that sourced cotton from Xinjiang-based Litai Textiles and others. They included Australia’s largest global retailer — the Cotton On Group — and Target Australia, and Swedish companies IKEA and H&M.
Even though the Cotton On Group and Target Australia announced they would stop sourcing cotton from Xinjiang, it is a classic case of too little, too late.