Tue, 15 Jun 2021

Beijing [China], May 18 (ANI): Despite ranking second globally in cotton production, China has come under immense international pressure, with critics accusing it of labour abuses in Xinjiang, prompting buyers to look elsewhere for cotton supplies to avoid the political fallout.

In this scenario, Uzbekistan, the world's sixth-biggest cotton producer, is emerging as a preferred supplier as buyers turn their back on supplies from China, after a decade-long international boycott over forced labour, writes Mimi Lau for South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Uzbek activists began raising the alarm about forced labour in the country's cotton industry more than a decade ago, during the time where millions of people, including doctors, teachers and even children, were mobilised to bring in the cash crop.

Several sanctions followed and more than 300 brands and retailers signed the international boycott of Uzbek cotton and textiles.

Since then, Uzbekistan has launched radical reforms to end child labour and forced labour through privatisation of cotton farms and trying to move up the value chain, writes Lau.

Meanwhile, China has been rebuked globally for cracking down on Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang by sending them to mass detention camps, interfering in their religious activities and subjecting them to abuse including forced labour.

Beijing, on the other hand, has vehemently denied that it is engaged in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang while reports from journalists, NGOs and former detainees have surfaced, highlighting the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) brutal crackdown on the ethnic community.

The US banned imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang in January, and Canada and the United Kingdom followed suit. Many international brands, including HM, Nike and Ralph Lauren, have also gone on record to declare their products are not made from Xinjiang cotton, SCMP reported.

Consumers and state media in China responded with calls to boycott the firms but companies like Ralph Lauren, claiming that "diversifying the supply chain has become a corporate strategy for the brand".

Researchers say there are signs that US companies are decoupling from their Chinese suppliers to head off political risks, SCMP reported.

This effect is likely to spill over from cotton to other sectors, according to Fan Di, assistant professor with Hong Kong Polytechnic University specialising in fashion retail and marketing.

Meanwhile, an official source close to Uzbekistan's cotton industry said the Central Asian country was expecting "a huge influx of trade and investment" in the next 18 to 24 months.

"What is happening in Xinjiang now is in fact a window of opportunity for Uzbekistan. We are seeing a sharp increase from large multinational brands and retailers expressing their interests to source from Uzbekistan as they were concerned with their exposure in China," the source said.

Uzbekistan can also become a source of cotton for China, which consumes much more than it produces, writes Lau.

Meanwhile, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden have issued a joint statement expressing grave concern at the human rights situation of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in China's Xinjiang province.

The statement by these Nordic and Baltic countries, which was delivered by Martin Bille Hermann, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the UN on Wednesday, said, "We are gravely concerned about the information presented in reports and statements on the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region." (ANI)

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