Who made your cotton shirt and dress?
Jianli Yang and Lianchao Han report in the Wall Street Journal,
U.S. Customs and Border Protection accuses Hetian Taida Apparel Co. in China’s Xinjiang province of using forced or prison labor, and last month the agency banned U.S. imports of the company’s garments. It’s a first step, but the U.S. should go much further. China, the world’s largest cotton producer, has built the world’s largest prison system to provide the labor needed to sustain cotton production.
This cotton gulag is primarily based in Xinjiang, home to most of China’s Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups.
…In 2014 the Chinese government implemented a strategy to suppress Uighurs in Xinjiang even more. It involves the detention of large numbers of Uighurs in so-called re-education camps or vocational training centers, intended to cleanse them of their ethnic identity and make them loyal to the Communist Party. Observers estimate that China has detained more than one million Uighurs in this system.
…Since 2014 some 2,200 new cotton and apparel companies have been set up to participate in the vertical-integration program. Some boast that they are suppliers for major international brands. As of 2018 China documented the employment of 450,000 new Uighur workers from impoverished households, relatives of the convicted and detained, and re-education camp inmates.
…Inmates in Xinjiang prisons serve as a key labor force in the cotton value chain, from cotton-field reclamation and construction of irrigation systems to planting, harvesting, processing and garment production.
…While prison and labor camps are the traditional means of control, China has also begun perfecting a new model of imprisonment. Beijing has deployed the most expansive and intrusive surveillance system in the world in Xinjiang, making the province essentially an open-air prison. Companies sourcing from China can’t effectively audit their suppliers. China doesn’t need to rely on barbed wire to enslave workers when they have blanketed cities with facial-recognition cameras and sophisticated voice-recognition technology to keep track of residents.
The U.S. has the world’s most stringent law—the Tariff Act of 1930—to protect against the importation of goods made with forced labor. It is little enforced, as evidence can be hard to verify. But the evidence is clear when it comes to Xinjiang, where forced labor is ubiquitous. Since Xinjiang is by far the largest supplier of China’s apparel supply chain, Western governments, companies and consumers should assume that any cotton products made in China are a product of the cotton gulag.
It is time to stop this modern slavery. We urge the U.S. government to enforce the ban on the importation of forced labor goods by banning all cotton, textile and apparel products from China.
Read more here.
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