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BCI Task Force Tackles Alleged Forced-Labor Cotton Farming in China

In order to adapt and respond to labor challenges in cotton farming, such as the those posed in Western China, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) has actively engaged in dialogue on its “Decent Work” principle and forced labor issues.

BCI said this engagement is with its stakeholders, including civil society organizations, retailers and brands, and expert organizations. BCI said Wednesday it is working to strengthen “Better Cotton Principle Six: Decent Work,” and has set up an expert Task Force on Forced Labor and Decent Work to review selected elements of the Better Cotton Standard System.

The action comes after reports of the use of forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region. It had been reported that BCI had stopped activities in the region, but BCI did not address that or a previous request for comment on it.

BCI said based on this review, the Task Force will produce recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the system in identifying, preventing, mitigating and remediating forced-labor risks. The Better Cotton Standard System is a holistic approach to sustainable cotton production that covers all three pillars of sustainability–social, environmental and economic, and addresses the many challenges of cotton production.

BCI noted that one of the seven Better Cotton Principles and Criteria directly addresses “decent work and forced labor.” Decent work is defined as work that offers fair pay, security and equal opportunities for learning and progression in an environment where people feel safe, respected and able to express their concerns or negotiate better conditions.

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The Task Force on Forced Labor and Decent Work brings together representatives from the civil society, retailers, brands and consultancies with a strong expertise in human rights and forced labor issues in supply chains, particularly in the textile sector. The Task Force also draws on the expertise of a project adviser with a background tackling the risks of child and forced labor in cotton harvesting at the International Labor Organization.

From civil society, the task force has Patricia Jurewicz, founder and vice president of the Responsible Sourcing Network; Isabelle Rogers, global cotton program manager at Solidaridad; Chloe Cranston, business and human rights manager for Anti-Slavery International; Shelly Han, chief of staff and director of engagement at the Fair Labor Association, and Komala Ramachandra, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Representing consultancies and research organizations are Rosey Hurst, founder and director at Impactt; Aarti Kapoor, managing director at Embode, and Brett Dodge, senior consultant for Ergon.

Retailer and brand representatives are Lydia Hopton, ethical trade manager at M&S Clothing and Home, and Aditi Wanchoo, senior manager for development partnerships, social and environmental affairs at Adidas.

The project advisor is Stephen McClelland, an independent senior consultant.