World The U.S. banned Xinjiang cotton imports because of forced labor. Textile workers face abuses in other countries, too.
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In January, the U.S. government bannedfrom China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang. These measures come in response to allegations of forced labor in the region, as have detailed how Uighurs and other Muslims have been held in and forced to work under . On Jan. 19, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeled China’s actions in Xinjiang as , citing widespread reports of torture, forced sterilization and restrictions on freedom of religion and expression.
Given the gravity of these allegations, prominent apparel brands such as, and have cut ties with suppliers in the region, and other apparel brands will probably follow suit. How will these efforts affect global sourcing and labor issues within the fashion industry? Here’s what our research suggests.
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1. The garment industry will not be clear of Xinjiang cotton for some time
The Xinjiang region supplies an estimatedof global cotton — and most of the source directly from the region. But these same brands also import garments from other countries that use Xinjiang cotton, including Bangladesh and Vietnam. While several global brands have increased the scrutiny of their Xinjiang operations, the ity of supply chains in China’s makes it challenging for corporations to ensure that their goods are free of cotton produced via forced labor.
2. It’s not just Xinjiang. Labor rights violations are rife in the apparel industry.
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Several women said Chinese men would rape and torture Uighur women every night in the camps even sometimes using electric sticks.Tursunay Ziawudun, who spent nine months in the detention centers before eventually fleeing to the US, told the BBC that women were taken from their cells "every night" and raped.
While the forced labor issue in Xinjiang represents an extreme case of abuse, labor rights violations are common in apparel supply chains. The rise ofbrands such as H&M, Zara and Forever 21 has intensified pressures on workers in developing countries, as brands compete to deliver the newest styles quickly and affordably.
Developing-country suppliers face razor-thin margins and tight lead times, making conditions ripe forDon’t miss any of TMC’s smart analysis! Sign up here for our newsletter. that involve workers’ , and . And such as China and Vietnam or illiberal democracies such as account for much of global apparel sourcing. The leaders of these countries have strong incentives to undermine respect for the right of workers to because a vibrant labor movement would threaten their hold on power.
3. Consumers have stepped up pressure on brands to improve their standards
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Consumers play an important role in improving labor standards worldwide. In the 1990s, for example, consumer groups helped shine a light onin Nike-contracted factories, leading the company to adopt more of its supplier factories.
How does this type of consumer pressure work? In our, we examine consumer responses to labor rights-related branding campaigns through experiments we ran on 2,000 Americans. In one of our experiments, we presented consumers with either a negative news story relating to H&M’s treatment of unions or failure to pay a living wage in supplier factories, or a positive news story about H&M’s efforts to improve labor rights.
We found strong consumer responses to negative publicity: Survey responses to the negative news story suggest brands would see expected profits drop by about 50 percent. This finding suggests that brands may face economic consequences when the news media spotlights connections to forced labor in Xinjiang.
4. Consumers can also “buycott” ethically sourced products
USA: Blinken warns China on Xinjiang and Hong Kong
USA-CHINA: USA: Blinken warns China on Xinjiang and Hong Kong © Reuters / TOM BRENNER USA: BLINKEN WARNS CHINA ON XINJIANG AND HONG KONG WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi on Friday that the United States will defend human rights and democratic values in Xinjiang , Tibet and Hong Kong.
In addition to pressuring firms through a boycott, consumers also influence corporate behavior through “buycotts” — essentially rewarding socially conscious brands that choose to. In a separate experiment, we examine how consumers respond to different types of . We designed a set of hypothetical labels related to the (“Union Made,” “Women Empowered,” “Child Labor Free,” and “Living Wage”).
We found that consumers responded more to some labor standards than others. In particular, respondents were willing to pay twice as much for garments advertised as “Child Labor Free” compared to those with the labels related to a living wage, unions or women’s empowerment. Many consumers may equate “child labor” with “forced labor,” suggesting that they could be responsive to products certified and labeled as free from the abuses reported in Xinjiang.Mike Pompeo accused China of committing ‘genocide,’ an international crime. Biden’s team agrees.
5. Private initiatives to address labor rights abuses tend to focus on the most extreme violations
Strong consumer reactions to labor rights violations can induce multinationals to join voluntary initiatives to address these issues. For example, public scrutiny after the 2013in Dhaka, Bangladesh, prompted brands to sign on to private governance initiatives, such as the and the . These initiatives have met with some success — the number of industrial accidents after the introduction of the Alliance and the Accord, and a larger proportion of factories are now with international fire and building safety standards.
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While these efforts may be effective in addressing specific problems such as compliance with safety regulations, private governance initiatives representto labor issues. The U.S. order on Xinjiang cotton thus represents an important step forward — a ban is a more forceful measure and it creates for brands that continue operations in the region. By some estimates, the ban could affect in annual U.S. retail clothing sales. In response, some brands have increased their transparency efforts by using to determine whether Xinjiang cotton is in their final manufactured goods.
The combination of consumer and government pressure means that brands will probably be more proactive in their efforts to clamp down on forced labor in their supply chains. However, most garments will continue to be sourced from countries that lack democracy and respect for labor rights, meaning that violations such as, and will continue. A more sustainable solution will require engagement with political institutions where garments are manufactured — in particular, — to encourage garment workers globally to organize and advocate for their rights.
Aparna Ravi is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at George Washington University. She specializes in the politics of foreign direct investment, development finance and labor politics.
Emmanuel Teitelbaum is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at George Washington University. His research focuses on labor politics, economic development and South Asia.
China blocks audio app Clubhouse after users seize rare shot at free speech .
Users freely discussed matters such as Taiwan and Xinjiang on the invitation-only platform — until the censors caught on. They asked questions about the protests in Hong Kong, reports of mass detentions of Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang, the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and female orgasm — all topics that would normally be quickly censored on any Chinese social media platform.