Number of the Day

The Fashion Industry’s Ties to Forced Labor, by the Numbers

Why brands like Adidas and Calvin Klein are cutting ties with suppliers in China

Marker Editors
Marker
Published in
2 min readSep 7, 2020

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1 in 5 — How many cotton garments sold globally include materials 
produced by forced labor in China’s Xinjiang province
Photo illustration, source: sorendls/E+/Getty Images

One in five: That’s roughly how many cotton garments in the global apparel market include cotton or yarn that can be traced back to forced labor in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, according to End Uyghur Forced Labor, a human rights coalition.

Xinjiang accounts for one-fifth of the world’s cotton production, and roughly a third of China’s cotton is produced by a paramilitary group known as Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which the U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions against in July. The sanctions, which take effect next month, were issued in response to human rights abuses connected to China’s policies towards its Uyghur population. China has put an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities into reeducation camps over the past three years, and it continues to build what appear to be detention centers in Xinjiang. A March report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) found that between 2017 and 2019, at least 80,000 “graduates” of the reeducation camps had been sent to work in factories across China, where they found evidence of forced labor.

A number of major global fashion brands have supply chains that run through Xinjiang. The ASPI report called out brands like Adidas, Gap, and H&M for profiting off forced labor. The Japanese fashion brands Uniqlo and Muji were found to have advertised garments with Xinjiang cotton as a selling point in October last year.

In response to pressure from the public and the U.S. government, many companies have announced they are severing ties with suppliers in Xinjiang. Over the last few months, Adidas, Lacoste, Abercrombie & Fitch, PVH Corporation (which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger), and more said they had — or planned to — cut ties with suppliers and subcontractors that used Uyghur labor. Nike, which has seen relatively strong sales in China through the pandemic, issued a statement in March that it would be reviewing its supply chains for “potential risks related to employment of Uyghurs, or other ethnic minorities.”

Auditing and shifting supply chains could prove extra difficult for the fashion industry right now as it struggles for survival. J.Crew, J.C. Penney, and Brooks Brothers have all filed for bankruptcy since the pandemic began. Still, the struggle may be worthwhile if it means pulling funding from what may currently be the world’s biggest ethnic cleansing program.

We’ll say it again: Supply chains are people, too.

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