Clothing companies are forced to grapple with this horrific reality because China is the world’s second-largest producer of cotton. More than 80 percent of China’s cotton is grown in the Uighur region, approaching 20 per cent of all global production. As a result, almost every major clothing brand and retailer sourcing cotton products from China is potentially implicated.
While China’s ethno-religious concentration camps were whitewashed as “re-education” and “vocational training” centres, the main euphemism for the forced labour system is “poverty alleviation”. As early as 2015, the Xinjiang government announced a plan to expand the textile and garment industries in the region, to employ one million workers by 2023. The workforce would be drawn primarily from the southern Uighur heartland. In practice, this expansion was driven by government recruitment quotas and subsidies for companies to take on the targeted workforce.