The Olympics committee hired a Chinese company that advertises using Xinjiang cotton to make staff uniforms for the Tokyo Games

The Olympics committee hired a Chinese company that advertises using Xinjiang cotton to make staff uniforms for the Tokyo Games

Bill Bostock 

Apr 7, 2021, 5:34 AM

China Cotton Farmers
A 2010 photo of farmers near Hami, Xinjiang, seen pouring sacks of cotton onto a truck. 
  • China is accused of forcing Uyghur Muslims to work in manufacturing across the Xinjiang region.
  • The US banned Xinjiang cotton imports in January, and major US companies have boycotted using it.
  • Axios reported that Olympics organizers hired a firm that uses Xinjiang cotton to make Tokyo Games uniforms.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The International Olympic Committee contracted a Chinese textiles company that uses Xinjiang cotton to make staff uniforms for the Tokyo Games, Axios reported.

The IOC announced in September 2019 that it had hired the Hengyuanxiang Group to make outfits for the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as outfits for games staff.

But Axios reported Tuesday that a large number of products marketed by the group on the major online marketplaces Taobao and are openly branded as being made from Xinjiang cotton.

The company also oversees a franchise factory in Xinjiang, Axios said.

The use of Xinjiang cotton has become a politically fraught issue.

China is accused of forcing thousands of Uyghur Muslims to work in fabric factories, and companies like H&M have been slammed for using cotton sourced from the region.

The reported workhouses are a part of a wider crackdown by Beijing on the Uyghurs, an ethnic Turkic minority.

uighur protest china
Uyghurs demonstrate against China in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2020. 
Murad Sezer/Reuters

Since at least 2016, more than one million Uyghurs have been interned in hundreds of prison-like camps across Xinjiang.

The US has labeled the project “genocide” and, in January, banned the import of all cotton products made in Xinjiang.

A string of large US companies like Nike and Under Armour have also vowed never to use cotton from Xinjiang.

It is, however, hard to determine whether cotton from Xinjiang was made with forced labor due to the lack of transparency in the supply chain.

The IOC told Axios that the Hengyuanxiang Group provided it with a certificate that said the cotton used to make the uniforms had been sourced from outside China.

However, critics say the IOC is fuelling the issue of forced labor in Xinjiang by awarding the company the contract.

“Partnering with a company that not only sources from the Uyghur Region but boasts about it in its product advertising is morally reprehensible,” Penelope Kyritsis, a director at the labor rights group Worker Rights Consortium, told Axios.

“At a time when the world is waking up to the horrors taking placing in the Uyghur Region, the IOC appears to be turning a blind eye.”

The Hengyuanxiang Group is also contracted by the IOC to make staff uniforms for the 2022 Witner Olympics that is to be held in Beijing.

The US and its allies are discussing a possible withdrawal from the 2022 Winter Olympics over China’s human-rights abuses.