Published 6 months ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: End Uyghur Forced Labor
Too many brands have long taken a lackadaisical approach to ensuring their supply chains are free of forced labor risk. That is no longer an option if they intend to walk their ethical talk.
An important shift is taking place when it comes to monitoring labor,
environmental and human rights risks. Previously, companies acted because of
pressure from consumers — such as with the famous child-labor sweatshop
campaigns of the
1990s, which led to drastic changes in how companies such as Nike sourced labor.
Then, the primary driver was loss of sales, due to fear of reputational risk.
Now, the risk is even greater and more direct. Last year, the Uyghur Forced
(UFLPA) came into effect, passed with bi-partisan
It was a response to well-documented and verified reports that goods being
produced by Uyghur workers in Xinjiang, China, under conditions of forced
labor, were being imported into the United States.
since late June 2022, the US government has seized $961 million worth of goods
over suspected ties to forced labor. This mainly consists of shipments of cotton
and textiles — but also solar
agricultural products and more.
“The message is clear: Forced labor is a top-tier compliance issue, and no
longer the provenance of weak codes of conduct or CSR measures,” Anasuya
Syam, director of human rights and
trade at the non-profit Human Trafficking Legal Center, said in a press
“What changed? The advent of substantial legal and enforcement risk.”
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For companies, the UFLPA is prompting them to materially enhance their
capabilities to identify forced labor risks or face a potentially costly blocked
shipment, which could have severe impacts across their supply chain. Already,
the solar industry has seen significant lost
due to the UFLPA.
Many brands are turning to sourcing tools to help them identify high-risk
suppliers. One of them is TrusTrace — which is
currently supporting several of the world's largest fashion brands with data
collection for UFLPA compliance.
“A lot of companies had not worked on their understanding of supply chain
monitoring and measuring; and they were caught off guard,” TrusTrace co-founder
and CEO Shameek Ghosh told Sustainable
Brands®. “So since then, they have started investing a lot into collecting
this data — which is where we see a significant amount of interest by companies
to use our platform.”
was co-founded by Ghosh in 2016, with the goal of bringing together data and
providing a clearer way for companies to dig deeper into their supply
— as often, forced labor risks are found among indirect suppliers with whom
brands often have no relationship.
“As a brand, you have a sphere of influence — which is going to tier three, tier
four; but maybe the cotton is at tier six or seven, where it is getting exposed
to the Uyghur forced labor camps,” Ghosh explains.
Other tech tools aiming to empower brands with data include
FRDM — which seeks to automate supply chain
due-diligence tasks; and
which has launched a due-diligence solution specifically aimed at helping
companies comply with the UFLPA.
They’ll have to evolve to deal with emerging challenges, such as what
researchers at Sheffield Hallam University uncovered — the deliberate
routing of tainted Xinjiang cotton to third countries, and several instances of
brands unknowingly importing this
to the US and Europe. There is a push to get the government to also monitor
“[The US government] may be missing shipments containing inputs from the Uyghur
Region that enter the United States from other countries,” Syam said. “The
agency should have a specific strategy to address the shipment of Uyghur
Region-origin goods via third countries — a critical element of which must be a
robust program of on-site, third-country verification of the provenance of
Other sectors need to watch what is happening, too; and as mandatory
due-diligence requirements and the need for detailed visibility in a supply
chain will only grow. The solar industry was, despite being warned years ago,
unprepared for the impact of the UFPLA; and to this day is calling for
Even major companies including Apple, Coca-Cola and
pushed against the law — despite their stated commitments to human
and ethical sourcing.
It will likely go beyond the US, too. Last week, the European Council
formally adopted a new
that will prevent products linked to
from entering the European market. This will require those importing several of
the world’s most widely traded agricultural commodities — coffee,
— to prove they aren’t violating environmental standards in order to enter the
world’s largest economic market.
“Companies should be ensuring that their business activities are not linked to
adverse environmental impacts at home or abroad; but they are not currently
being compelled to do so,” said ClientEarth’s Clotilde
Henriot, in a
“Binding requirements for corporate governance across the entire length of a
company’s value chain is the key way to bring about appropriate action.”
For now, TrusTrace is focusing on the apparel and textile sectors — meaning
there is plenty of space for others to deliver new solutions to address all
supply chains now seeing mandatory due-diligence
due to laws in the US and Europe.
Unfortunately for Uyghurs, the situation remains dire. The region has become
nearly inaccessible to journalists and researchers, making it harder to see if
laws such as the UFLPA have had any impact. But a recent report in Foreign
found that Uyghur forced labor is getting less visible, but more intense. Too
many brands have, for too long, taken a lackadaisical approach to ensuring their
supply chains are free of forced labor risk. That is no longer an option if they
want to walk their ethical talk.
Published May 23, 2023 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Nithin is a freelance writer who focuses on global economic, and environmental issues with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges.