On 14 December 2020, the BBC published a story across its media channels that focuses on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and allegations of forced labour in the cotton sector, including at farm-level. A BCI spokesperson participated in an interview on 9 December, on-record and recorded, and parts of the interview feature in the BBC’s reporting.
Report supports our findings and current approach in the province
Forced labour, in any form, is unacceptable, and if it is discovered where Better Cotton is produced, it is considered an incidence of non-compliance with BCI’s Standard and is dealt with immediately through license cancelation or denial.
The BBC report focuses on the work of Adrian Zenz, published by the Center for Global Policy, which analyses a large volume of policy papers and state news reports that suggests that transfer of farm labourers for cotton picking is taking place in an increasingly coercive environment.
Zenz’s findings indicate that hundreds of thousands of cotton pickers from ethnic minority villages across the province are mobilised by the state to support the cotton harvest. One of the most notable findings is poor, rural communities being transferred into employment through what the Chinese government promotes as a poverty alleviation programme. Some of the researcher’s findings help corroborate what BCI had determined through the research we conducted and commissioned over the past year. Namely, there are increasing risks of forced labour at the farm level in the region.
These increasing risks, combined with the worsening state of the operating environment, led us to suspend licensing in the region in March, and most recently in October, to cease field-level activities in the XUAR altogether.
Forced labour is a complex issue, which comes in many different forms, and is often related to structural and systemic challenges that extend beyond the boundaries of the farm. BCI drew upon the concept of ‘responsible disengagement’, from the OECD Guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to only leave as last resort when there were no clear opportunities for us to impact change within the specific context.