Growing allegations of forced labor in their cotton supply chains have made sourcing awareness a top priority for fashion brands. Brands across the world are pressurized to refute usage of Xinjiang cotton in their garments. One such instance is Japan-based casual wear brand Uniqlo whose US shipments were blocked recently over concerns of connections with forced labor in China’s Xinjiang province,
Remote farm locations increase labor exploitation risks
As per a 2021 Know The Chain Report, the cotton supply chain is particularly vulnerable to forced labor risks. Cotton farms are located in remote areas that make them inaccessible to labor inspectors. Workers employed in these farms are unable to report instances of exploitation as most of these workers are migrants who return to their villages after the harvesting season.
The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is investigating instances of forced labor across China notes a report by Textile Today. Authority has barred goods made by forced labor from entering the US market. In 2021, the authority prevented 1,255 shipments containing goods worth over $765 million from entering the US on forced labor allegations. These 623 shipments contained goods worth $84 million made by forced labor, though the number of goods sourced from Xinjiang remains uncertain.
Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) also made headlines recently as it addressed a 2020 accusation fostering forced labor in Xinjiang. The matter highlighted the urgent need for brands to be aware of their supply chains. They need to stop relying on certificates making claims of sustainable and fair trade practices, says Leonardo Bonnani, CEO, Sourcemap.
Increasing transparency with molecular taggants
Brands need to verify their products’ journey from source to shelf. They need to authenticate the origin of all their products right from raw materials to finished goods. For this, they need to make each participant of its supply chain from the raw material to the finished goods, responsible for ensuring the quality and integrity of its products.
Brands can use molecular taggants such as DNA-based tags to verify cotton and other materials including coffee and wine. These tags are permanent and not affected by climatic changes. These tags can also be used to verify the identity of inputs in a finished good, tracking authenticity from origin to retail. This will help brands to confirm to their social and ethical commitments.