Worker Rights Consortium Applauds US CBP Ban On XPCC Cotton as a “Body-Blow” to Apparel Brands Complicit in Forced Labor

Coalition allies filed a petition for a regional WRO on cotton products from China’s Xinjiang Region in August

Washington, D.C.— Today, United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that it will block imports of all products containing cotton produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), in response to widespread concerns over the use of forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The XPCC, a Chinese government paramilitary body, controls approximately a third of the region’s cotton production— six percent of all cotton globally. 

“CBP’s action is a body-blow to every brand that intends to continue sourcing cotton from the Uyghur Region,” said Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Workers Rights Consortium, a member of the coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labor. “The XPCC’s operations represent a third of all cotton production in the region, and more than 6% of cotton globally. This order will likely impact the supply chains of virtually every major apparel retailer — from Amazon, to Target, to Zara. A ban on all cotton from the region is warranted, and CBP’s action therefore represents a partial step, but the scope is large enough to have a major impact on the apparel industry.”

The WRC estimates that more than half a billion articles of clothing containing XPCC cotton are imported into the United States every year. This includes finished garments exported from dozens of countries — including Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Vietnam, as well as China — that use fabric containing cotton from the Uyghur Region. 

“CBP will need to up its game on enforcement to achieve the intended effect of this order. Historically, CBP’s forced labor-related enforcement has been insufficient in both rigor and transparency. Ensuring strong and transparent implementation of this crucial action should be the highest priority for CBP and for those in Congress charged with its oversight,” said Nova

Under U.S. law 19 U.S.C. §1307 it is illegal for the United States to allow entry of goods, “produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor or/and indentured labor.” CBP’s action is an effort to ensure effective enforcement of this existing law and is based on the recognition that there is a high risk of forced labor on any XPCC cotton farm — and therefore in any garment containing XPCC cotton, regardless of where the garment is sewn.

Said Nova, “This is the strongest economic challenge to the Chinese government’s human right abuses in the Uyghur Region to date, and a step towards restoring the rights of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim peoples across the region.”

In late July, approximately 300 human and labour rights and investor organizations launched a campaign, End Uyghur Forced Labour, calling on global corporations to divest from the region and end their complicity in the egregious human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples in China. 

On August 28, the AFL-CIO, Corporate Accountability Lab, Freedom United, Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum, Human Trafficking Legal Center, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Investor Alliance for Human Rights, Uyghur American Association, Uyghur Human Rights Project, and World Uyghur Congress filed a formal petition urging a regional withhold release order (WRO) on all cotton-made goods linked to the Xinjiang region of China. UK-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), along with the World Uyghur Congress, filed a companion petition with CBP based on a similar complaint filed with UK authorities earlier this year alleging widespread prison labour. UK law also prohibits the import of prison labour-made goods.