Allegations of Uyghur forced labor taking place in China’s fashion industry has resurfaced as a hot button issue ahead of next month’s G20 Summit.
The intergovernmental event held in New Delhi this year is slated to address topics such as green development, multilateral institutions for the 21st century, and women-led development. Activists and watchdog organizations are also flagging the issue of slavery taking place in the global cotton and fast fashion supply chain.
Across the world, $468 billion worth of clothing imports that take across the G20 countries including the US, South Korea, China, Canada, India, Brazil, Turkey and Russia are “at risk of modern slavery,” according to Reuters. Citing the 2023 Fashion Transparency Index, the report states that only 23 percent of brands are addressing and sharing the “prevalence of modern slavery-related violations and risk factors in their supply chains.”
In recent years, popular retailers including Uniqlo, Zara and Skechers have faced claims of engaging in human rights violations in China. This includes being “involved in the surveillance, the management and the construction of camps, as well as the overall monitoring of the Uyghur region.”
Given that Xinjiang is a major cotton producer — producing over 20 percent of the world’s cotton and 80 percent of China’s cotton — the issue continues to be a difficult dilemma for many major brands.
In 2020, groups like the European Uyghur Institute accused China of detaining up to 1 million Uyghurs in labor camps. Meanwhile, in the US, the implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in 2022 has resulted in almost 49 percent of apparel, footwear and textiles imports from China being denied entry into the country in Q3 of that same year.
Earlier this week, Canadian watchdog group The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) stated it is investigating the Canadian operations of Walmart Canada and Hugo Boss to determine whether instances of human rights abuses are taking place across the brands’ supply chains. CORE has already started examining the activities of other brands including Nike Canada and Ralph Lauren.
According to Reuters, Walmart Canada stated, “None of the entities in the complaint are in our active disclosed supply chain.” Hugo Boss did not reply to requests for comments on the issue.