The US has to lead efforts in resisting unethical products

June 1, 2021

In Mar 2020, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) ended activities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China, citing “sustained” reports of forced labor and human rights abuses. BCI’s members, including Nike, had already distanced themselves from the use of Xinjiang cotton, but are now facing state-backed nationalism boycotts in China.

Photo Credit: BBC | Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in various “re-education” and “vocational training” facilities.

Why it Matters: From  ethical manufacturing to human rights and democracy, CCP China has been re-defining concepts and values upheld around the world. CCP China  is now even trying to export those politically-motivated interpretations outside its borders.  Facing a backlash from recent condemnations voiced by global brands, Chinese state-backed cotton cooperatives are creating their own standard as an alternative to BCI.  

⬇2 min. read

A Timeline: 

  • In 2005, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) was established as an independent organization aimed at achieving environmental, social and economic sustainability in cotton production. Its Better Cotton Standard System creates a holistic approach to ensure sustainable cotton production in 23 countries. The group now has over 2,000 members globally.
  • In 2016, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported BCI with $1million in funding.
  • In Mar 2020, BCI pulled out its activities with licensed farmers in Xinjiang over allegations of forced labor in the region. IKEA backed the decision, emphasising that “under no circumstances do we accept any form of forced labour in the IKEA supply chain.”
  • In Sept 2020, the House of Representatives passed H.R.6210 Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to prohibit certain imports from Xinjiang and to impose  sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations.
  • In Jan 2021, the U.S. banned imports of all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang due to  concerns over forced labor and other human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region.
  • In Mar 2021, Nike reiterated its commitment to ethical and responsible manufacturing, confirming its concern about forced labor in Xinjiang.

What is happening in XUAR:  Since 2018*, BBC and other news outlets have been reporting on the alarmingly expanding concentration camps in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs are locked up, separated from families, forced to have “thoughts transformation” education, and assigned into forced labor posts. The most egregious and inhuman offense is systematic rape.  The Chinese officials have called the accusations “lies and false information”. In BBC’s documentary, Chinese officials have also claimed that the Uyghurs have voluntarily joined the poverty alleviation programmes.

* The correspondent for this BBC report, John Sudworth, had to leave China, citing threats, surveillance, and intimidation experienced by his team.

Why should the US step up:  Amid pressure from China in late March, BCI recently took down an Oct 2020 statement regarding forced labor and human rights abuses in Xinjiang. As the recent events unfolded, China has been forcing fashion brands to choose between the U.S. and Chinese markets. Alongside efforts to replace BCI, China is trying to redefine shared  values. The world needs to join forces to resist CCP China’s persistent efforts to redefine basic truth.

What can the US do?  In 1990, labels on nutrition facts were mandated under the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. The US can lead efforts in sourcing more ethical products, first by recognizing products from ethical production and promoting labels indicating “ethical origins” of a product.

The US can also introduce regulations to ensure companies operate with responsible business practices through ethical procurement choices, export credits, and national action plans that promote better corporate respect for human rights domestically and abroad.  One suggestion is to make it mandatory for companies to develop their human right policy that is in compliance with UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.