By analysing supply chain connections identified through shipping records, the research suggest cotton from the Uyghur Region bypasses supply standards to end up around the world.
The findings suggest dozens of well-known international brands are at risk of using cotton that is produced or processed by forced labour in the Xinjiang Province in China.
The report, Laundering Cotton: How Xinjiang Cotton is Obscured in International Supply Chains, found that more than 100 well-known retailers are at risk of using cotton produced through forced labour.
'It leaves many leading brands with nowhere to hide'
Researchers used publicly accessible customs data to investigate five leading textile companies to identify some of the routes by which Xinjiang cotton may be reaching international consumers.
The report identifies 53 contract garment suppliers—in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Ethiopia, China, and Mexico—that reportedly purchase fabric and yarn from five leading Chinese manufacturers that, according to the authors, use Uyghur Region cotton. The suppliers use the fabric and yarn in the clothes they make for leading apparel brands, with no indication to consumers of the cotton’s origin.
The research was led by Laura Murphy, Professor of Human Rights at Sheffield Hallam University’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice.
Professor Murphy said: “Our report details, link-by-link, how cotton moves from the Uyghur Region through the global clothing supply chain to consumers’ closets.
“Our research makes it clear that only through a firm commitment to exclude Uyghur Region cotton from their supply chains can brands provide any meaningful assurance to consumers and regulators. It leaves many leading brands with nowhere to hide.
“Not all the brands named in this report are at the same place in their efforts to keep their supply chains free of Xinjiang cotton.
“Some have publicly committed to taking the necessary steps to get Xinjiang cotton out of their supply chains and have committed to show evidence to independent groups that they are doing so. However, many brands have made no commitments.
“This research will help policymakers, investors, and consumers make smarter choices.”
The report concludes with recommendations that governments and corporations should put in place mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation to ensure forced labour made goods do not reach consumers.