Xinjiang cotton and selfie cameras: U.S. blacklists Chinese companies that use forced Uyghur labor

Politics & Current Affairs

The U.S. blacklisted 11 Chinese companies yesterday, some for well-documented coerced labor, and others for their involvement in invasive biometric tracking of Uyghurs. The companies had supplied American brands such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, and Apple.

a tag of a muji standard collar shirt with the words "xinjiang cotton" on top
“Xinjiang cotton” is advertised on the tag of a shirt at Japanese clothing outlet Muji. Image via Kevin Huang on Twitter.

Yesterday, the U.S. Commerce Department expanded its blacklist of Chinese companies connected to human rights abuses of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China. Eleven companies were listed, some for well-documented coerced labor, and others for their involvement in invasive biometric tracking of Uyghurs.

“Many of the corporates added to the list Monday are suppliers and contractors providing garments and basic goods, and they can be replaced by other manufacturers elsewhere in Asia,” the Wall Street Journal reports. American companies such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Nike had sourced from these companies in the past.

It makes sense that garment manufacturers were affected, because, as Xinjiang scholar James Millward has told The China Project:

China produces 20 to 30% of the world’s raw cotton, and Xinjiang produces 80% of that, and a large proportion of that is produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which is a state-owned enterprise on steroids.

So this is only recently coming to be better known, but it’s very, very difficult to not just source apparel from Xinjiang, but to source cotton or cotton thread from China generally without being tainted by what’s going on in Xinjiang because so much of the cotton itself that China uses and China sells — for example, to Vietnam to make clothing — so much of that is actually coming from an entity that runs concentration camps, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.

The sanctions also affected technology companies, such as Nanchang O-Film Tech, which “has said that it manufactured selfie cameras for some models of the iPhone, as well as other camera and touch screen components for Huawei, Lenovo and Samsung,” according to the New York Times.

“The blacklist only prevents U.S. companies from selling components or technologies to Chinese companies without a license, not from purchasing products,” the NYT explains. “In practice, however, major international brands are unlikely to continue doing business with any firm named on a government list for forced labor or other abuses in Xinjiang.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that human rights was merely a “pretext” for the U.S. move, and that Washington’s “true intention is to oppress Chinese companies, disrupt stability in Xinjiang and slander China’s Xinjiang policy.”

Other countries have also recently increased their attention on Xinjiang and Uyghur issues. See: