written by Yi Xiaocuo
Eighty percent of cotton exported by China is produced in Xinjiang. At least over a million Uyghur, Kazakh, and other Turkic minorities are currently detained in concentration camps in Xinjiang. Chinese authorities use poverty alleviation as a disguise to use these detainees as forced laborers in factories. When we buy Xinjiang products, what are we buying? We are buying ourselves into the mechanism of resource extraction and settler colonialism in Xinjiang.
After seeing that Muji not only sources Xinjiang cotton, but also brazenly advertises it, Juxkun took to action. He customized a stamp from a local stationery store including a QR code link to a WSJ article about Xinjiang forced labor, then he stamped it onto the Muji shirt tags in hope of educating the consumers about the stories behind the Muji shirt.
Juxkun writes: “I hope this info can help customers make informed decisions about whether they want to risk being complicit in forced labour. For more info see Wall Street Journal article by @evadou and @chao_deng. The intersection of re-education camp and cotton producers has been known since MAY. @mujiusa must be banking on you not knowing, or not caring.
“I very much hope that @mujiusa can clarify exactly how they did their due diligence on their supply chain in Xinjiang, and/or explain how they could confidently bring this product to market almost half a year after the exposure of slave conditions in Xinjiang factories. My cynical guess is that Xinjiang cotton is cheaper than it has been in years past (curious, that), and Muji believes consumer ignorance or apathy will prevent the whole ‘slave labour’ thing from coming up or affecting sales. My hopeful guess is that Muji literally didn’t know, which is also an indictment, but a different one. One that can more quickly be addressed and fixed. So please tweet them to let them know about the abhorrent situation in Xinjiang and ask ‘WTF, Muji?'”
If you want to know more about cotton and forced labor in Xinjiang, here is a reading list I compiled:
US Congressional-Executive Commission on China hearing “Forced Labor, Mass Internment, and Social Control in Xinjiang.” Oct 17, 2019.
Amy Lehr’s report. “Connecting the Dots in Xinjiang: Forced Labor, Forced Assimilation, and Western Supply Chains.” Oct 17, 2019.
ABC. “Cotton On and Target Australia stop buying cotton from Xinjiang over human rights concerns.” Oct 17, 2019.
Ecotextile News. “Brands boycott Xinjiang cotton over forced labour fears.” Oct 17, 2019.
The Wall Street Journal. “Did a Muslim Slave make your Chinese Shirt? A Look Inside the ‘Cotton Gulag’ in Xinjiang Province.” Oct 16, 2019.
Asia Pacific. “China profiting off of forced labor in Xinjiang: report.” Aug 23, 2019.
Lianchao, Han and David Wong. “Cotton: The Fabric Full of Lies: A report on forced and prison labor in Xinjiang, China, and the nexus to global supply chains (CPIFC Monograph Series Book 2).” July 28, 2019.
The Wall Street Journal. “Western Companies Get Tangled in China’s Muslim Clampdown: Kraft Heinz, Adidas, and Gap are among the Companies Whose Supply Chains Runs through Xinjiang.” May 16, 2019.
Reuters. “Xinjiang cotton at crossroads of China’s new Silk Road.” Jan 11, 2016.
I did a simple Google search and found that “Xinjiang cotton” has become a thing, in the same way as “Zimbabwe diamond.”
Other companies and products use Xinjiang cotton:
Muji’s Women Xinjiang Cotton Dress
Xinjiang cotton archive: Left Field NYC Long Staple Xinjiang Cotton Twisted Yarn Weft Selvedge Denim
XHSP Pure Cotton Different Style Big Towel 100% Xinjiang cotton,28″x55″,Soft Encryption Cover Three Layer Blanket Bath Towel
100% Cotton Xinjiang Pollution-Free 32 Strands of Natural Cotton Ultra-Thick Large Bath Towel (29.7 x 14 inches) Luxury Bath Towel 3 Packs (Light Yellow Light Pink Light Blue)
Xinjiang Quilt Cotton Tire Quilt,Cotton Quilt Core,Mattress Quilt for Bedroom Bed Children’s Room-A 180x220cm(71x87inch)
Women’s Bathrobe Xinjiang Long-Staple Cotton Bathrobe Cotton Bathrobe Adult Home Service, Suitable for Spring and Autumn, Green L/185 (Color : Green, Size : L)
Advertisements and reports promote Xinjiang cotton as if nobody lives in that place or is suffering under oppressive conditions for the cotton:
CHINATEX COTTON XINJIANG CO., LTD. Date Unknown.
“China National Textile Group established China Textile Cotton Xinjiang Co., Ltd. on July 11, 2014 to expand and deepen the cotton business in Xinjiang. Zhongfang Cotton Xinjiang Co., Ltd. has a registered capital of 15 million yuan. Its business scope includes: cotton purchase, warehousing services, steel, construction materials, and sales of primary agricultural products.”
SELVEDGE DENIM MILL. Date Unknown.
Saintkeat. “Xinjiang Cotton – The Next Big Thing?” Aug 13, 2012.
Dan Bryant. “Chinese set 3-year goal of better cotton than SJV.” Oct 7, 2000.
More works by Juxkun, a concerned friend of Xinjiang. He also designed this T-shirt to address the issue of China’s resource extraction in Xinjiang. Besides the cotton and oil industries, Xinjiang produces more than 70% of China’s tomatoes and a significant portion of canned and processed tomatoes for export into the global economy, for example Heinz tomato ketchup. The massive paramilitary organization, Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC), established in the 1950s, engages in large scale land reclamation and facilitates an increasing ethnic Han population influx into the region. It also plays an active role in operating many of the re-education camps at the moment. Tomato production is controlled by XPCC’s Tunhe Corporation. One fourth of the world’s tomato paste comes from Xinjiang.
If you are interested in purchasing the shirt, here is Juxkun’s kickstarter page.
Buying a T-Shirt is not activism. But it is our hope that this T-Shirt can be a tool to enhance your activism. Whether that’s wearing it to a protest, or wearing it to a corner store, we hope it will provoke conversations with people who recognize the label and recognize the words, but don’t yet understand the connection.