MM community, you may have read recently about the coerced labour of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, China. It implicates a huge portion of the fashion industry and we believe this is incredibly important to discuss, reflect on and learn from. We really encourage you to take time to read the following.
Coercive labour practices in Xinjiang
Xinjiang is a region in China that produces more than 84% of all cotton from China and more than 20% of the world’s total cotton. On December 14th 2020, the Center for Global Policy released a report titled ‘Coercive Labour in Xinjiang: Labor Transfer and the Mobilization of Ethnic Minorities to Pick Cotton’. The report presented new evidence from Chinese government documents and media reports showing that hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority laborers in Xinjiang are being coerced to pick cotton by hand through a coercive state-mandated labor transfer and “poverty alleviation” scheme. There has been speculation prior to this report, however this report highlights for the first time the magnitude of this human rights violation. Having reviewed this evidence, the USA have issued a ban on all cotton imports from Xinjiang.
How does this relate to Maggie Marilyn?
The organic linen used in our Somewhere Sport release was grown in Xinjiang. Although this report and evidence are specific to the cotton industry, it shows the magnitude of this coerced labour transfer scheme and highlights that ‘it is impossible to define where coercion ends and where local consent may begin’. Therefore we cannot be absolutely sure, despite certifications, that our organic linen supplier, being located in Xinjiang, is not associated with this coerced labour of ethnic minorities. As a result, immediately following the publication of this report in December, we removed all future linen orders and are working to find another supplier. As a business that is founded on the protection and fair treatment of all people, we cannot risk in any way supporting this violation of fundamental human rights.
Why did we source our organic linen from this grower?
We have 2 key requirements when sourcing any new raw material - that it is certified organic and that it has a traceable supply chain - meaning that we know every supplier from who grows the fibre through to who makes it. A traceable supply chain, supported by certifications and audits of each tier is the only way of ensuring the fair treatment of people and the planet. When sourcing our organic linen, our supplier, Somelos (one of the industry's largest and most trusted shirting suppliers) had knowledge of only 3 farms globally that offered organic linen. Of these, only one farm was willing to offer full supply chain traceability. This farm was Kingdom, in Xinjiang China. Kingdom has certifications and audits to accredit their organic farming and protection of workers including Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI), Fair Labour Association (FLA), Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC), Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Oeko-Tex Standard 100. In addition to this they also hold a number of awards including for Outstanding Corporate Social Responsibility, they produce a yearly Environmental, Social and Governance report, donate regularly to community and charities and donated to build the Kingdom Hope Primary School. At the time of purchase, we felt confident standing behind these certifications.
What has this taught us at Maggie Marilyn?
This has reiterated the importance of having fully transparent supply chains so that we are always acutely aware of the social and environmental situations where our raw materials are grown and actively monitoring these. Having a transparent supply chain has allowed us to take the immediate precautionary measure of removing our linen production from Xinjiang following the evidence presented within the cotton growing industry. Without a transparent supply chain we wouldn’t be in the position to even be having this conversation. As a small internal team, we rely strongly on certifications to ensure our suppliers are socially and environmentally responsible. Moving forward, in addition to these certifications, we will be working closely with an independent sourcing consultant to dive deeply into assessing the wider social and environmental climate where our raw materials are grown.
What can this teach us all?
Coerced and forced labour is not a unique issue, it is prevalent across global textile supply chains and must be stopped. For this to happen, we must know not only who made our clothes but who grew the raw material, spun it into fabric, who dyed it. If you take one thing away from reading this, let it be how crucial it is that all fashion brands have fully transparent supply chains. Demand more from the brands you buy from (including us!) and keep asking questions. Be willing to change your purchasing habits. Continue to widen the circle of people you deem worthy to protect and care for, beyond your immediate circle, community and country. There are so many seemingly invisible people involved in making our clothing who are directly impacted by the decisions we make as consumers at the end of the line. We have the privilege and freedom to choose better, our choices and actions can make a difference.
Read the full report by the Center for Global Policy here.
Key summaries from the report:
"...it is clear that labor transfers for cotton picking involve a very high risk of forced labor. Some minorities may exhibit a degree of consent in relation to this process, and they may benefit financially. However, in a system where the transition between securitization and poverty alleviation is seamless, and where the threat of extralegal internment looms large, it is impossible to define where coercion ends and where local consent may begin."
The production of Xinjiang cotton continues to heavily rely on manual labor, primarily in cotton picking. This applies even more to the production of higher-quality cotton.
The state’s labor transfer scheme mobilizes hundreds of thousands (in 2018, upward of half a million) cotton pickers from ethnic minority regions.
There are strong indications that the labor transfer scheme is coercive in key aspects (recruitment, transfer, on-site management). Evidence for this exists both for the broader scheme in general and specifically for labor transfer into cotton picking.”
“In the absence of the ability to conduct meaningful and independent audits of actual working conditions, it must be assumed that any cotton from Xinjiang may involve coercive labor, with the likelihood of coercion being very high.”