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Xinjiang cotton banned in the U.S. is still making it on to store shelves

2021-11-17 14:40:06
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Xinjiang cotton banned in the U.S. is still making it on to store shelves

In China’s cotton-growing Xinjiang region, farmers have been hailing a bumper harvest this autumn. But much of the crop is under U.S. sanctions, and where it will end up is a thorny question.

Xinjiang produces a whopping 85 percent of China’s cotton, which is made into garments sold around the world. Some of the largest Xinjiang suppliers have been banned since last year from selling to the United States due to human-rights abuses in the region against members of the Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority.

U.S. and European policymakers are now discussing expanding the ban, with much of the world’s cotton products hanging in a regulatory and ethical gray zone. Enforcement is proving challenging, with fashion brands sourcing from hundreds of factories around the world with little proof of where the cotton originated.

While BCI has more than 2,100 members, the China Cotton Association said last month that so far 21 companies have signed onto the new domestic standard.

The restrictions on Xinjiang cotton may tighten in the West in coming months. In July, the Senate passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, with passage in the House of Representatives now needed for it to become law. The measure would broaden the U.S. import ban against goods made in whole or in part in Xinjiang.

In September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the E.U. also plans to adopt a forced labor import ban, a measure largely interpreted to be aimed at the Xinjiang labor concerns.

Murphy said that many suppliers were using non-Chinese cotton to make products for U.S. brands to comply with Washington’s sanctions, while continuing to source for Xinjiang for the rest of their products. She said Western brands will need to consider if this arrangements meets the spirit, and not just the letter, of the sanctions.

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