Products made by the forced labor of Chinese Muslims detained in camps in the Xinjiang region could be making their way to the US and other countries. Much of the forced labor in Xinjiang is involved in producing cotton rather than finished clothes. This cotton winds its way through a multi-step supply chain that can obscure its origins before potentially being exported to countries such as the US. Xinjiang is also where most of China’s cotton is grown. Cotton products don’t generally ship straight from Xinjiang to the US. Instead, the cotton is turned into yarn and textiles in Xinjiang, other parts of China, or sometimes neighboring countries. US companies buy the yarn, fabrics, or even finished clothes made from the cotton. That’s a huge problem since China is one of the world’s largest cotton producers and its biggest garment exporter. One in three garments the US imports annually comes from China.
Forced labor is a reality in the sprawl of internment camps across Xinjiang in western China. They hold up to an estimated million detainees, most of them Uyghurs and other Muslim minority members, who are said to be deterred from extremism and instead given work to escape poverty.