China branch of cotton trade body finds no forced labour in Xinjiang

FILE PHOTO: A gate of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre is photographed in Dabancheng, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The China branch of the cotton trade body Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) said on Friday it had not found signs of forced labour related to cotton production in Xinjiang.

The comments come as a number of overseas retailers face a public backlash from Chinese consumers who circulated statements from the brands on social media announcing they will cease sourcing from Xinjiang. BCI counts many of the brands in question, including H&M, Nike, and Adidas, as members.

“The BCI Shanghai representative office once again solemnly reiterates that the China project team strictly abides by BCI’s audit principles,” the trade body said in a statement.

“Since 2012, the Xinjiang project site has performed second-party credibility audits and third-party verifications over the years, and has never found a single case related to incidents of forced labor.”

The branch added it would remain in communication with its Chinese partners in Xinjiang.

Earlier this week, Chinese citizens launched a social media backlash against H&M by circulating a notice the company published last year stating it would cease sourcing cotton from Xinjiang. The backlash quickly extended to other overseas brands.

Human rights organisations have accused China of running forced labour camps for Uighur Muslims living in the western region. Beijing has repeatedly denied the accusations, calling the camps in question vocational training centres.

A number of major Chinese apps have joined the backlash by removing H&M from their listings.

Reporting by Josh Horwitz. Editing by Toby Chopra and Mark Potter