Shopping can be something of a minefield these days. On a rather infrequent clothes-shopping trip, I found myself unsure whether the pair of cotton trousers made in China had been manufactured using forced labour of Uyghurs. There is no easy way to tell. The Better Cotton Initiative does not give such a guarantee and has also recently been forced to close its monitoring work in China.
One solution would be to restrict your shopping to ethical and fair trade brands, but these brands can be more expensive and therefore beyond many people’s budgets. Another solution, that may ultimately have even more impact, is to ask your favourite retailers to explain the mechanisms that they have in place to ensure that forced labour is not a part of their supply chain.
China’s cotton and clothing market is huge. China produces 20% to 25% of all cotton globally and approximately 80% of cotton used in China’s textile production industry comes from internal production. China’s total cotton, yarn, textile, and apparel exports in 2018 constituted almost 10 percent of the total value of Chinese exports.
The Government of China has a highly managed approach to industrial development and the control and movement of labour across all regions. But the coercion of Uyghurs into factories was greatly increased in response to Uyghur unrest and violence perpetrated by Uyghur Islamists and separatists in 2013.
“Labour transfer programmes” transfer members of the Uyghur ethnic group from their homes or fortress style “re-education centres” to factories and cotton farms under police or military control. The scale of the forced relocation of the Uyghur minority is shocking. As one Chinese Provincial Government directive states, it is designed to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins”.
Take action with us. Several retailers have already put in place systems to ensure that Chinese cotton and clothes in their supply chain is not using forced labour. Others need to do so. We are not suggesting that you avoid products made in China altogether. Our action is not anti-China; rather it is pro-transparency and pro-dignity.
As Christians, we believe that everyone should be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve because of their inherent worth as God-created beings. Forced labour, and other human rights abuses experienced by Uyghurs in Xinjiang, fundamentally neglect this.
Members of our churches have long recognised the difference that we can make together as ethical consumers and have supported Fair Trade. Here at JPIT, one of our priorities for 2020/2021 has been to ‘stay alert to justice’ – both in the UK during the pandemic, and further afield. One way that we can stand against injustice across the globe is to take an active role in calling for transparency in the production of the clothes we wear.
We have put together template letters, contact details and email addresses to enable us to easily and quickly write letters to retailers for which there has been past evidence of forced labour in their China supply chain.