Big name retailers including H&M and Stella McCartney said they cannot guarantee they are not profiting from Uighur forced labour in China to make their wares despite their best efforts.
H&M, the second-largest fashion retailer in the world, said that due to the complexity of the global supply chain “from farm level, via ginners, to spinners of yarn, fabric production and finally manufacturing, there is today no solution available to fully trace the origin of cotton used in final products”.
Stella McCartney, which takes pride in its sustainability credentials, said the traceability of certain raw materials, such as cotton, “is extremely difficult to gain”.
The remarks came ahead of an inquiry into forced labour. The business select committee will quiz witnesses from Boohoo, H&M, TikTok, The North Face, and Nike to find how the industry can avoid profiting, however unwittingly, front the misery of Xinjiang’s Muslim population.
The US government estimates as many as three million Uighurs have been detained in the concentration camps of Western China. The Xinjiang region is a key hub of Chinese cotton production.
Stella McCartney said in a document to MPs: “Although we do not source directly from any organisations in the Xinjiang region… we understand that a proportion of our cotton, including organic cotton, is sourced from China and as such we cannot completely rule out the possibility that a portion of it could be coming from the Xinjiang – this is something we are actively investigating at this time, and discussing with our suppliers directly.”
H&M added: “For reasons of quality and functionality, cotton from different regions or even countries is mixed along the supply chain.”
The retailer, which also owns the COS and & Other Stories brands, said it hoped to come up with solutions with other retailers to eradicate the practice.
More than a dozen big brands that source products in China, including Amazon, Boohoo, Gap, Ikea, Marks & Spencer, Nike, Victoria’s Secret and Zara’s owner Inditex, were asked to submit written evidence to MPs last month.
They have all sought to distance themselves from the controversy around Chinese clothing manufacturers or factories that source raw materials, cotton in particular, in the region.