Fashion Breakingviews

Fashion Breakingviews


Employees look for garbage in newly harvested cotton at a processing plant in Aksu, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, December 1, 2015.

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) – Clothing makers’ reasonable labour credentials are hanging by a thread– a cotton thread. More than 80%of China’s crop comes from the Uighurs’ house area, Xinjiang. Beijing denies allegations from activist groups that required labour taints that supply. Still, style giants risk being captured out.

As yet, brands are not all equal in how they tackle the problem. Puma, a 10 billion euro business, states it asked all its suppliers to just use cotton licensed by the Better Cotton Initiative, a sustainability scheme which this year stopped authorizing Xinjiang cotton. In contrast, Abercrombie & Fitch, with a market capitalisation of $680 million, prepares to source just a quarter of its cotton via the BCI, and only by2025

Out of the 10 publicly listed merchants gotten in touch with by Breakingviews, just Muji parent Ryohin Keikaku– which admitted to sourcing in Xinjiang– and Puma would reveal where their cotton comes from ( See the survey table). Adidas said its providers sourced cotton outside the area, but was not clear about confirmation. And confirmation, consisting of surprise checks, is crucial, as clothes companies attempting to enforce labour standards have discovered.

Xinjiang is not the very first questionable source of cotton. Because a campaign released in 2006, business have been boycotting Uzbekistan cotton since of using forced child labour. That was fairly successful, but Uzbek cotton is only 3%of the world supply. Xinjiang produces more than a fifth. Preventing it is going to be more difficult for any big cotton user, however not impossible. And it needn’t increase the cost too much. For example, under the Fairtrade plan, which forbids required labour or the labour of children under 15 years old and includes a premium which goes into buying community or production jobs, the Fairtrade certification includes 5%-10%to the cost paid by merchants for a cotton Tee shirts.

That may wind up being a deal. China has yielded the existence of what it calls occupation training centres in Xinjiang, but activists consisting of the World Uyghur Congress say these camps involve required labour, including on cotton farms. Such accusations have attracted unfavorable Western media and political attention. Britain and the United States have implicated China of human rights abuses in the region.

Non-governmental organisations can use that sort of publicity to motivate customer boycotts, which can be followed by pressure from financiers with environmental, social and governance mandates. British merchant Boohoo is a cautionary tale: it has lost more than a quarter of its market price because June 30 on reports that UK workers making its clothes were being paid listed below minimum wage.

Wise business supervisors might want to get ahead of media protection and any restrictions enforced by federal governments. More ethical cotton sourcing might be a trouble for them now. Turning a blind eye to the problem might end up being a false economy.


Reuters Breakingviews is the world’s leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break worldwide every day. A global group of about 30 reporters in New York, London, Hong Kong and other significant cities offers professional analysis in real time.

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