Cotton watchdog removes statement on Xinjiang forced labor from its website

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
·2 min read

Last year, an international cotton watchdog organization announced it was ceasing all operations in Xinjiang amid reports of widespread forced labor. That statement has now disappeared from the organization's website as backlash grows in China against international attempts to boycott Xinjiang cotton.

The big picture: The Chinese government is pressuring foreign companies and organizations to stay silent on repression in Xinjiang, or in some cases, to even actively promote Xinjiang-made products.

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What's happening: The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a Europe-based nonprofit, has recently faced pressure to rescind its October 2020 announcement that it was enacting a policy of "responsible disengagement" and pulling out of Xinjiang.

  • In late March, the Chinese state-affiliated Global Times ran a series of articles lambasting BCI for ceasing its Xinjiang operations.

  • On March 26, BCI's Shanghai branch said that it had found no evidence of forced labor in the Xinjiang cotton industry.

Driving the news: Major global clothing retailers including H&M and Adidas have recently faced a state-fanned consumer boycott in China over their previous statements disavowing Xinjiang cotton.

Background: A growing body of evidence indicates that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs may be working under coerced conditions in the Xinjiang cotton industry, amid a campaign of repression including mass internment and forced sterilization of Muslim minorities.

  • The U.S. has banned imports of all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang.

What they're saying: "We will not be providing input on this at the moment," BCI spokesperson Joe Woodruff told Axios in an email.

  • When asked in a follow-up email if BCI now believed there was no forced labor in the Xinjiang cotton industry and if BCI would be resuming operations there, Woodruff did not respond.

Go deeper: Global textile watchdogs struggled to raise alarms in Xinjiang

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