Working on the chain gang Congress is moving to block goods made with the forced labour of Uyghurs
If a sportswear company like Nike or Adidas wants to know if any of the fabric in their socks or trainers is from Xinjiang, supplier of 20% of the world’s cotton, forensic science can help. Oritain, a firm based in New Zealand, says it can analyse sample swatches of cotton to determine whether particular elements—including zinc, potassium and rare-earth metals like cerium—are present in the same proportions as in cotton grown from the soil of the north-west region of China. Such tests of provenance are becoming valuable, because evidence is mounting that textiles made with cotton from Xinjiang, and other goods with links to the region, are the fruit of the forced labour of Uyghurs. The Trump administration has already moved to stop some imports from Xinjiang into the American market, and in the coming months Congress is expected to give customs officials greater power to do so. Other countries may follow America’s example.
In the past four years China’s ruling Communist Party has overseen the internment of more than 1m Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that is indigenous to Xinjiang, in mass detention centres. In December the bbc and the Centre for Global Policy in Washington reported that at least a half-million Uyghurs were being put to work in cotton fields, conscripted to do a job handled by machines in many parts of the world, under the auspices of “poverty alleviation”. On December 28th BuzzFeed News reported, with the help of satellite imagery, the construction in the past few years of 21m square feet (nearly 2m square metres) of factory facilities on the grounds of more than 100 detention centres in Xinjiang.