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To counter injustice with legal interventions – this is the aim and daily work of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

ECCHR is an independent, non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to enforcing civil and human rights worldwide. It was founded in 2007 by Wolfgang Kaleck and other international human rights lawyers to protect and enforce the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other human rights declarations and national constitutions, through legal means.

Together with those affected and partners worldwide, ECCHR uses legal means to end impunity for those responsible for torture, war crimes, sexual and gender-based violence, corporate exploitation and fortressed borders.


Adidas, Hugo Boss, Puma and Co.: Sourcing cotton produced with forced labor?

Despite assurances, cotton from Xinjiang apparently still detectable in textiles

Research undertaken by the German investigative feature format STRG_F (NDR/funk) has demonstrated that cotton from the Chinese province of Xinjiang can still be detected in the clothing of German brands, including Adidas, Hugo Boss and Puma. Cotton sourced from this region carries the risk that it was produced using forced labor. Previously, these textile companies publicly guaranteed that they would no longer use cotton from Xinjiang.   

However, they apparently continue to do, as STRG_F has now discovered in cooperation with Agroisolab Jülich and the University of Applied Sciences Niederrhein. Using isotope analysis, it was possible to determine the origin of the cotton in textile products. In garments from Adidas, Hugo Boss, Puma, Jack Wolfskin and Tom Tailor, cotton was identified that, according to the available findings, originated from the Xinjiang region in western China. "The isotopic fingerprints in the cotton are unique and can be distinguished from cotton from other countries and even other Chinese regions," said Dr. Markus Boner of Agroisolab. 

In recent years, there have been numerous reports of systematic oppression of ethnic groups in Xinjiang, especially the Muslim Uyghurs. There are also strong indications that these minorities are being forced to harvest and process cotton. For this reason, the US has banned all imports of cotton from the region, and numerous large textile companies have stated that they no longer source cotton from Xinjiang or do not intend to do so in the future. In the EU, thus far an outright ban on imports is only in the preliminary phase of discussion.

China has closed off the region to independent journalists, and the STRG_F team was also denied visas to conduct research on the ground. However, they were able to speak with numerous eyewitnesses living in exile. The truck driver Erbaqyt Otarbai reports that he was arrested because he had installed the messenger service WhatsApp on his cell phone. He says he was tortured in prison and forced to sew clothing during his subsequent internment in a workcamp. "It was very strenuous work. Anyone who didn't do a good job was sent back to prison, and no one wanted to go back there." For the first time, a former Chinese police officer Wang Leizhang (name changed) told a German film crew how he had been involved in the systematic detention and torture of ethnic minorities while he was stationed in Xinjiang a few years ago. He also witnessed forced labor: "During my time in Xinjiang, many Uyghurs were taken to camps. There, they were supposed to be re-educated through work such as sewing. The goods produced could also be sold much more cheaply as a result."  

In September 2021, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) submitted a criminal complaint with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office against the CEOs of several German textile companies because of their alleged problematic supply relationships with Xinjiang.

"The research provides important additional evidence. Anyone who has cotton from Xinjiang in their clothing cannot rule out that it was produced under duress. The risk is high," said Miriam Saage-Maass of ECCHR. So far, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office has not initiated any investigations; ECCHR hopes that these recent discoveries will bring new urgency to the matter.   

When asked, the manufacturers maintained their claim that they do not source cotton from Xinjiang. Adidas stated in writing that it sources cotton exclusively from other countries. Puma stated, "Based on all the information we have gathered and the traceability protocols and controls we have implemented, we can say that no cotton from Xinjiang is used in our products." Hugo Boss claimed that it does not tolerate forced labor in its supply chains and did not wish to comment further on whether it could be ruled out that cotton from Xinjiang is used in its products. Jack Wolfskin did not comment specifically on the question of cotton from Xinjiang. Tom Tailor did not respond to the inquiry when asked.

The likelihood that cotton from Xinjiang is in clothing or other cotton products from China is relatively high. Nearly 90 percent of Chinese cotton, and thus more than one-fifth of the world's supply, comes from the region, according to official figures. Accordingly, STRG_F's research also shows that cotton from Xinjiang is evidently not only in products "Made in China," but also in clothing produced in Vietnam or Indonesia, for example.

The research can be seen at:

  • STRG_F on Youtube
  • Panorama in Das Erste on 5 May 2022 at 9.45pm
  • Panorama – die Reporter in NDR Fernsehen on 10 May 2022 at 9.15pm

There is also an article at zenith magazine.



Human rights violations off the rack: European brands allegedly rely on forced labor

Forced labor

Alarming reports about torture, re-education camps, and forced labor in the Xinjiang region in China have increased in frequency since 2017. According to Amnesty International, the Chinese government systematically persecutes the Muslim Uyghur minority in the country’s northwestern province. Tens of thousands are allegedly forced to harvest cotton and sew clothes – which are also sold on the European market.

Press Contact

Maria Bause
T: +49 30 69819797
M: presse@ecchr.eu

Philipp Jedamzik
T: +49 30 29680591
M: presse@ecchr.eu