Marks & Spencer has been praised for becoming the “first top-tier global UK clothing company” to formally announce that it will not work with suppliers connected to the forced labour of Uighur people.
The brand formally announced the commitment on Wednesday as it signed the ‘Coalition to End Uighur Forced Labour’s Call to Action’, which has been backed by more than 300 human rights and civil society organisations.
In a statement, M&S Clothing & Home managing director Richard Price said: “At M&S, sourcing ethically and sustainably is core to how we do business and the promise we make to our customers; that’s why we do not source cotton from Xinxiang.
“When it comes to sustainable and ethical clothing, we can only achieve real change at scale by working with others, which is why we are proud to be formally supporting the coalition and providing additional assurance to our customers they can purchase from M&S with confidence,” he said.
A recent report from the Center for Global Policy (CGP) analysing data from 2018 found that more than half a million people from ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region had been forced to pick cotton.
Xinjiang currently produces approximately 20 per cent of the world’s cotton and 85 per cent of China’s cotton, which is also exported to other countries.
Anti-Slavery International CEO Jasmine O’Connor welcomed the development in a statement praising Marks & Spencer for its leadership.
“The Call to Action sets out a clear path of action for brands to follow in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and we call upon other major brands to follow suit with M&S and commit to the Call to Action urgently,” she said.
According to Anti-Slavery International, a number of brands and retailers have privately committed to the coalitions “Call to Action”.
However, Marks & Spencer is the first top-tier global retailer to make its commitment public.
In a statement, Muetter Iliqud, Head of Communications of the Norwegian Uighur Committee, called on other companies to follow suit.
“The Uighur community demands real action from brands to end their complicity in Uighur forced labour, not empty declarations. Brands must urgently commit to the steps outlined in the Coalition’s Call to Action to ensure that they are not profiting from Uighur forced labour."
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