The following email letter was originally sent to the UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee (fac@parliament.uk).


Hello members of the FAC,

I was disappointed to read the Government’s responses to your recent report on the Uighur genocide in Xinjiang [1]. It is an issue I have been following for some time and I grow increasingly concerned about the ineffectiveness of our Government in responding to this atrocity.

I thought that another option you may wish to pursue would be tracing the provenance of cotton used in consumer textiles in the UK. If it can be demonstrated that consumer goods being sold in the UK contain cotton which can be traced back to Xinjiang, this could be used to apply pressure on firms throughout the supply chain to implement greater controls and more successfully move away from Xinjiang cotton.

In particular, I think isotope tracing could be of use here. As indicated in a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Human Rights Initiative [2]:

Isotope tracing can trace down to the farm level if the data library is available but typically is used to trace to a region or country. In the forced labor context, this can identify if cotton is sourced from a high-risk region, such as the XUAR or Uzbekistan. The underpinning technology relies on a chemical “fingerprint” that can be extracted from materials at any stage of the apparel supply chain, including finished goods. Measurements of dozens of chemical variables, including isotope ratios and trace elements, in the sampled material constitute this “fingerprint,” which is unalterable and a product of the cotton’s growing location. This “fingerprint” is then matched against a database to see if it is consistent with cotton “fingerprints” from the claimed region.

Documents shared with the HRI suggest that various proprietary models can be combined to consistently achieve strong performance, even in the XUAR context. Given the high risk of forced labor in the region, many brands have sought to eliminate use of any XUAR cotton. Until now, they have been unable to determine if their efforts were successful. Isotope tracing provides this capability. For both raw and processed cotton, some service providers claim that they attain very high true positive rates in determining if a product is truly free of XUAR cotton.

Because isotope tracing can be applied at all stages of the supply chain, there is a possibility to conduct a multi-stage investigation, starting with consumer products available on the UK high street, and then engaging with retailers to examine materials further up the supply chain.

Perhaps the FAC could initiate or sponsor an investigation of this kind, or consider a recommendation to the government to require brands selling in the UK to undertake isotope tracing at different points in their supply chains?

As far as I can see the HRI report does not provide the names of any companies who can supply isotope tracing services, but I am sure if you wrote to the authors of the report they would happily put you in touch with relevant providers who were interviewed.

[1] https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/78/foreign-affairs-committee/news/158880/government-refuses-to-declare-atrocities-in-xinjiang-a-genocide/

[2] https://www.csis.org/analysis/new-approaches-supply-chain-traceability-implications-xinjiang-and-beyond

Thanks,
John (they/them)

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