Marks & Spencer calls halt to forced labour in Xinjiang

Marks & Spencer is one of the first major brands to join the movement that is calling to end forced labour in the cotton and garment industry in the region of Xinjiang, China.


Fifth in global cotton production

Earlier this month, Marks & Spencer signed a 'call to action' by a coalition of more than 300 social groups, including the Clean Clothes Campaign Foundation. They call upon retailers to sever all ties with suppliers involved in Uyghur forced labour. This is reported by Reuters.


The United Nations estimates that China is holding at least 1 million Uyghurs and other minority groups in camps in Xinjiang, where many of them have to work in textile factories or supply companies. China denies those allegations and says the camps provide vocational training and help fight terrorism and extremism.


Xinjiang - home to roughly 11 million ethnic Uyghurs - produces about 85 per cent of China's cotton and 20 per cent of the worldwide supply, which is used by fashion brands all over the globe. A report last year linked 80 major brands (indirectly) to forced labour in the Chinese region.


Marks & Spencer said it was not working with any suppliers or raw materials from Xinjiang. However, they publicly supported the call to action to "play our part in driving meaningful change at a bigger scale."


Ban on import

A survey by Dutch newspaper FD shows that no Dutch fashion company has signed the call to action yet. WE Fashion would soon do so, and C&A is also considering signing the manifesto, although, so far, no final decision has been taken. "If we sign, we can be held accountable for cutting off cotton from that region," is how it sounds at Hema. The company also states that it is not sure whether it has suppliers in the region concerned.


A few days ago, the US government issued a drastic ban on cotton imported from Xinjiang. In doing so, the United States increased pressure on China to end the repression of Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim. At the same time, the government wants to prevent American shoppers from buying products that may be the result of forced labour, writes Quartz.