Report: Xinjiang cotton found in Adidas, Puma and Hugo Boss tops

  • Research suggests Xinjiang cotton is being used in T-shirts from some of Germany’s biggest apparel companies, including Adidas, Puma and Hugo Boss.
  • Agroisolab researchers explained that nature leaves behind a “signature” in cotton, caused by the “climate and geology” of a place.
  • The signature is what scientists call an “isotopic fingerprint,” which enables them to assign the place of origin in a piece of cotton.
  • Adidas and Puma made commitments in 2020 to not source any cotton from the Xinjiang region due to allegations of forced labor in the region.
  • Xinjiang cotton has been a high point of controversy due to reports that more than half a million ethnic minorities, particularly Uyghur Muslims, are being forced to pick cotton via “labor programs.”
  • In response to recent claims made in a report from The Guardian, both Adidas and Puma reiterated that their companies did not source cotton from the Xinjiang region.

Research suggests Xinjiang cotton is being used in T-shirts by some of Germany’s biggest apparel companies, despite their commitments not to source from the Chinese region due to allegations of forced labor. 

According to the German public broadcaster NDR on Thursday, scientists from the Agroisolab in Jülich revealed through isotope analysis that shirts from major German clothing labels, including Adidas, Puma and Hugo Boss, have traces of Xinjiang cotton in them.

Agroisolab lab explained that nature leaves behind a “signature” in cotton, caused by the “climate and geology” of a place. The signature is what scientists call an “isotopic fingerprint,” which enables them to assign the place of origin in a piece of cotton. 

“The isotopic fingerprints in the cotton are unambiguous and can be differentiated from cotton sourced from other countries and even other Chinese regions,” explained Markus Boner of Agroisolab.

Xinjiang cotton has been a high point of controversy due to reports that more than half a million ethnic minorities, particularly Uyghur Muslims, are being forced to pick cotton via “labor programs.”

Both the Trump and Biden administrations have been vocal about the Chinese government’s treatment of its minorities, accusing China of committing genocide against Uyghurs. Other reports have also alleged forced abortion, sterilization measures, torture, rape and forced disappearances. 

Xinjiang accounts for over 80% of the cotton grown in China, as the country’s largest cotton-growing area. The region produces a fifth of the world’s cotton and 84% of the country’s.

The U.S. government responded in 2020 by imposing sanctions and restrictions on suppliers by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, although it did not extend them to the entire Xinjiang region, leaving two thirds of Xinjiang cotton producers not held accountable. 

Puma released a statement in 2020, in response to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), that it had “no direct or indirect business relationship with any manufacturer in Xinjiang.”

Similarly, Adidas assured that it had “never manufactured goods in Xinjiang,” nor held any “contractual” relationships with any Xinjiang supplier. In spring 2019, the company “explicitly required” its fabric supplies to not source “any yarn from the Xinjiang region.”

In response to the most recent claims made in a report from The Guardian, Puma reiterated that they “strongly insist on the fact and reconfirm” that the company “does not source any cotton from the Xinjiang region.”

“Based on all the information we obtained through our investigations, and the traceability controls we put in place in our supply chain, we are confident that we do not source cotton from the Xinjiang region,” the company added.

An Adidas spokesperson recited similar sentiments, assuring that the company “sources cotton exclusively from other countries and takes a variety of measures to ensure fair and safe working conditions in its supply chain.”

 

Featured Image via VICE Asia

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