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Xinjiang Cotton Dropped by BCI

Rampant forced-labor allegations in China’s Uyghur-heavy Xinjiang region spurred one cotton group to reconsider its activities with the apparel production powerhouse.

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) announced Wednesday plans to cease all field-level activities in the the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), including capacity building and data monitoring and reporting.

In March, BCI suspended licensing and assurance activities in the region, and as a result, there is no new licensed Better Cotton coming from the region. Until circumstances change, BCI said it will focus efforts in China in the eastern provinces of Hubei, Hebei, Shandong and Gansu, where it has existing programs.

BCI said it has, for the past eight years, trained Chinese farmers, including Uyghur and Han farmers in the XUAR, on practices that cover its seven core principles on more sustainable cotton production. These include minimizing the harmful impact of pesticides and crop protection practices, promoting water stewardship, caring for health of soil, using land responsibly, preserving cotton fiber quality and promoting decent work.

“We look forward to the day when we can again deliver the BCI mission by providing capacity building for all farmers,” BCI CEO Alan McClay said. “We will re-evaluate our engagement in the XUAR when the operating environment permits.”

Among a variety of factors that contribute to a challenging operating environment were the recent sanctions order issued by the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets (OFAC) banning transactions with the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) and its majority-owned subsidiaries. In the past, XPCC had been a BCI member and implementing partner, however, this relationship was terminated in January, prior to the U.S. sanctions.

BCI said it has taken additional actions and due diligence to comply with the OFAC sanctions. While the latest decision from the BCI Council means that field-level activities of all types have ceased immediately, Chinese companies from or affiliated with the province that are not blocked by current OFAC sanctions can remain BCI members and users of the Better Cotton Platform.