Who made my clothes?

According to the coalition consisting of more than 180 human rights group, majority of the biggest fast fashion brands and retailers violate human rights by forcing millions of Uyghur people to work in Xinjiang region of northwest China. Persecutions including torture, splitting families and mandatory sterilization of Uyghur women towards the Uyghur population finally drew the attention of the world. Mass discrimination and oppression of millions of Uighurs by the Chinese government fits the UN definition of genocide. So, what does the fashion industry have to do with this?

The answer is fast fashion apparently. The report published by the Coalition to End the Forced Labour Force in the Uyghur Region in July 2020 brought the ongoing genocide to the international agenda and is what links this whole issue to the fashion industry. So, what did the coalition find? They found that many of the world’s largest fashion brands and suppliers have a huge share of human rights violations committed on Uyghurs. Despite these abuses, the coalition of human rights groups suggested that the world’s leading clothing brands are still using threads from prison camps in Xinjiang. In these camps, prisoners of 1.8 million Uighurs, other Turkic and Muslim people collect cotton and produce yarn through extensive state-sponsored surveillance and forced labour system. Slavery and persecution camps, called “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, are described as the biggest genocide of an ethnic and religious minority since the World War II.

 China, the world’s largest cotton producer, produces 84% ​​of its cotton in the Xinjiang region. One in five cotton products sold worldwide is tainted by slave labour and human rights violations in Xinjiang. This is how this genocide is hiding in the global fashion chain. The Coalition’s report includes brands such as Gap, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, H&M, Nike, Uniqlo and Zara among the brands that supply their cotton and yarns from Xinjiang. What do you think fashion brands did in response to the emergence of this uncomfortable reality? PVH Corporation, owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, H&M and Ikea said they will stop buying cotton from Xinjiang. Uniqlo said no products were produced in the region, while Muji said they will continue to supply cotton yarn from the area, but they are unaware of the slave labour claims.

Looking at the big picture: we see an inhumane example of how the fashion industry and the world can ignore a genocide for economic interests, by being involved in such crimes. This is true for every industry, not just fashion. Capitalism and globalization fuel these industries to commit these crimes and make them invisible. The knowledge that everything we consume can never be ethical is depressing, yes. But if that serves as our biggest reason for demanding systemic change, then we can make a change. Seeing that the system is flawed is the first step: it is time for other people to see it.