Berlin, 30 November 2021 – The Chinese government may be forcing large numbers of the Uyghur population in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) to work in cotton and garment production facilities. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has therefore looked into the reliability of leading textile certifications and their certification bodies as well as their relationship to the situation in the region.
The findings have been published in the policy paper Organic and “more sustainable”? Textile certifications and suspected forced labor in Xinjiang. They indicate that despite the well-known human rights risks in Xinjiang, facilities in the Uyghur region have for years been approved as in compliance with labor norms. Suppliers located in Xinjiang, or those that may use cotton produced in Xinjiang, are also allowed to process certified cotton and mix it with their own cotton. The paper focuses on textile certifications Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and its certification body Control Union Certifications, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), and Cotton made in Africa (CmiA).
Given the region’s alleged state-sponsored mass surveillance and forced labor policies, regular due diligence activities such as social audits cannot reliably rule out the use of forced labor in the facilities of Xinjiang suppliers. Certification schemes should therefore urgently reconsider their cooperation with all suppliers in the region.
To avoid the risk that their products may be produced in part with the use of forced labor, the paper recommends that:
- Textile certification schemes should not accept the products of Xinjiang-based suppliers at any production stage;
- GOTS should cease to certify and to allow audits of suppliers in the Uyghur region;
- GOTS should no longer accept any raw material originating in the region;
- BCI and CmiA should not allow any suppliers in Xinjiang, or those that may source cotton from Xinjiang, to process certified cotton;
- BCI and CmiA’s “mass balance” system - which allows for cotton from Xinjiang that is potentially produced with human rights violations to be mixed into certified products - must be urgently replaced with a physical traceability system that functions across the entire production chain.
Furthermore, brands that outsource their own human rights due diligence to these certification initiatives may expose themselves to the risk of forced labor, as well as the risk of criminal liability. Instead, brands should always conduct their own due diligence. This includes clearly mapping the operations of suppliers based on publicly available information, and ending business relationships with suppliers identified as being located in Xinjiang, along with those who have operations in the region.
The policy paper can be downloaded here. Further information on our case work on forced labor of Uyghurs can be found here.
ECCHR - Maria Bause, firstname.lastname@example.org +49 (0)30 69819797