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How your favorite jeans might be fueling a human rights crisis

Prisca Poncon (09/21/21)

I guess that in this room every single one of you possess clothes from either ZARA, Uniqlo, H&M or any fast fashion brand that you can think of. But do you really know where they come from and what their production implies in terms of human right violation ? 

The article I decided to talk about is called “How far your favorite jeans might be fueling a human rights crisis” published in VOX magazine the third of September 2021 and written by Sofi Thanhauser. 

The article talks about the use of forced labour in China, especially in the Xinjiang and the exploitation of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government in order to develop their production of cotton. Xinjiang is located in the far northeast corner of the country, bordering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and has been under Chinese control since 1949. The Uyghurs are a community that follow Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, they are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang. The Uyghurs farmers were formidable ones who were using rain-fed agriculture to grow food. But a new agriculture regime turned the land to another crop: cotton. 

The region had a huge potential for cotton and the five year plan of 1991-1995 specified that Xinjiang will be turned into a national cotton production base. 20 years later, they ended up with a cheaper workforce than expected in the 90s, but the reason is disturbing. 

From the coercive policy where Uyghurs were given cotton quotas to meet, Beijing has turned to a policy of forcefully interning Uyghurs in massive, heavily guarded camps subjecting them to what has been described as “reeducation”, but what also include sterilization and forced labor. 

Between 2002 and 2020, China has been the largest source of garment imported into the US, it changed to Vietnam since, but in reality Vietnam garments are often chinese-made and sewn in chinese-owned factories. Also for you to know since 2006, the US has globbed up far more Chinese garments and textiles than any other nation. 

In January, the Trump Administration banned cotton from Xinjiang because it was connected to the alleged human rights violation, which roiled a fast fashion industry reliant on Chinese textiles. 

The reports of detention camps started to circulate in 2019 and by 2020, major international brands were marred by forced labor. They started making public statements condemning China’s action in Xinjiang, and started talking about a zero-tolerance policy. As an example Adidas pledged to cut Xinjiang made products and other brands such as Patagonia and “it” brand Reformation say they will stop using Chinese cotton. 

In January 2021, shipments of Uniqlo T-Shirt were blocked from entering the port of LA because they were suspected to be from the Xinjiang region. At the same time, the France anti terrorist prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into 4 brands that has allegedly profited from Human Rights, the brands are Zara, Uniqlo, Skechers, and the SMCP group (Sandro-Maje). 

But China is the largest producer of cotton yarn and also the largest importer buying cotton from India, Pakistan or Vietnam, that they knit, woven and dyed to transform them into Zara summer dresses, Gap T-shirt, or Muji Jeans, hats and socks. But the real problem is the run for ever-cheaper clothing that leads to this cotton harvest by forced labor. 

The final question could be who is responsible ? Is it the Chinese government, the company that continues to produce clothes by using the Xinjiang cotton or the consumer who continues to buy the clothes ? 

Original article: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/22632448/xinjiang-cotton-ban-china-uyghurs-fast-fashion

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