After the crackdown of US Custom and Border Protection on cotton imports from China's Xinjiang region, the government agency has asked retailers to ensure their supply chains are free of forced labor involving Uighur Muslims. The CBP has issued it would detain all imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang and require companies to either prove the products were slavery-free or ship them elsewhere.
The United Nations estimates at least one million Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in Xinjiang, and many are said to be put to work. China denies mistreatment and says the camps are vocational training centers needed to combat extremism.
CBP said seizing imports would send a message over forced labor concerns in Xinjiang but that businesses had an even bigger role to play in preventing tainted cotton from entering the United States. The CBP expected US retailers to do due diligence down to the third or fourth tiers of their supply chains. Yet labor rights campaigners say most brands have limited to no knowledge about sourcing beyond their main Tier I suppliers.
The US government agency estimates about $9 billion cotton goods were imported from China in the past year. Under a 2016 law, it is illegal to import goods into the US that are made entirely or in part by forced labor – which includes prison work, bonded labor and child labor. The western province of Xinjiang – home to about 11 million ethnic Uighurs – produces about 85 per cent of China's cotton and 20 per cent of the global supply, which is used by fashion brands worldwide. Labor rights and supply chain experts have welcomed the Xinjiang-wide order but said enforcing it would be difficult.