In March 2021, Chinese social media began to buzz with the news that European fashion companies such as H&M had publicly disavowed the use of cotton produced in China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, citing allegations that forced labour was being used in its production. Although some of these statements had been made the previous year, the rise in awareness led to public boycotts of the brands, and some of the products being removed from Chinese-owned online marketplaces.
H&M launched a design hub at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai this week amid efforts to improve the localisation of its products.
The e-commerce company was the world’s third-most-valuable start-up in 2022, but its valuation has since dropped along with other start-ups and tech firms.
The US-sanctioned Chinese region borders eight countries, including Russia, Pakistan and other trade partners that should benefit from a plan to create new manufacturing and innovation hubs in Xinjiang.
Foreign trade from China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous jumped by 47 per cent, year on year, in the first three quarters of 2023 despite Western economic sanctions.
Beijing has been casting the spotlight on Xinjiang for its local-level achievements in bolstering the nation’s self-sufficiency drive, and salt-tolerant rice is said to be making salinated soil arable for other seasonal crops.
First half of 2023 sees US$587 million worth of goods denied entry to the US, more than doubling the figure for the second half of 2022.
Analysts say Beijing may be trying to be more active in its response to criticisms of its treatment of mainly Muslim minorities in the region.
In March, the UN said it was concerned about China’s treatment of its Muslim minority, including the use of forced labour against Uygurs. China denies the allegations.
Cotton output from China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is expected to fall by 11 per cent from last year in 2023 as it places an emphasis on quality over quantity while also creating room for crops amid food security concerns.
The fashion giant is accused of having supply relationships with companies in China that use or benefit from use of forced labour from the minority group.
Xinjiang, which accounts for the vast majority of China’s cotton, will allocate more cropland for edible grains amid US-led trade restrictions on goods from the region.
Representative Chris Smith, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, writes to Chinese leader Xi Jinping to request a visa to visit Xinjiang, where there is evidence of forced labour.
Newly disclosed cases show Beijing uses anti-espionage laws against Chinese nationals who leak documents to overseas organisations, which used them to ‘forge lies’ about forced labour in far western region, according to security agency.
Exports from China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region to the US dropped by almost 90 per cent in February, eight months after the Uygur Forced Labour Prevention Act came into effect.
Monthly exports to the US from Xinjiang hit their lowest November reading since records began in 2017.
Total cotton production in China is expected to increase by 5.8 per cent year on year, although demand has weakened, while the US’ Uygur Forced Labour Prevention Act has also hurt the market.
A US-led ban on Xinjiang cotton, Beijing’s zero-Covid restrictions, and supply-chain delays helped drive down China’s cotton-yarn imports during the year’s first three quarters.
Tomato products from Xinjiang were designated by the US as ‘high-risk’ under the Uygur Forced Labour Prevention Act, but the industry has proved remarkably resilient, mainly because it does not rely on the American market.
Extreme weather, US trade sanctions and global recession fears are disrupting the global market for cotton just as China’s Xinjiang region begins its harvest.
Entities from China’s Xinjiang region exported a 10-month high of US$56.8 million worth of goods to the US in August despite the Uygur Forced Labour Prevention Act having come into effect at the end of June.
Descriptions of detentions in region’s vocational education and training centres between 2017 and 2019 ‘marked by patterns of torture’.
Industry observers surprised by leap in reported shipments for July, as many believed number would plummet to near zero after June launch of law
Social media posts of sales at Gap stores in China fuelled further speculation that another foreign clothing brand is set to reduce its footprint in the country as an ongoing rise in nationalism appears to be increasing favouritism for domestic brands.
The United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery says evidence points to activity ‘in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing’.
H&M’s return to Tmall marks an initial step to help restore the company’s lustre in China, where it has borne the brunt of a backlash against foreign companies that refuse to buy Xinjiang cotton.
China’s export of textiles and garments hit a historical high of US$33.22 billion in July despite the Uygur Forced Labour Prevention Act effectively banning US imports of all products from Xinjiang.
US’ boycott of Xinjiang cotton looks to reshape the global textile supply chain by isolating China, but suppliers in places such as Vietnam and Bangladesh could face setbacks as they shift away from such a major source of cotton.
To help stabilise China’s reeling cotton industry, the state will begin stockpiling Xinjiang cotton from mills on Wednesday – its first such purchases in 15 months – but mills still expect to lose a fortune.
The ban, which went into effect in June, requires companies to prove their imports have not involved forced labour.