A number of fashion and apparel companies are facing investigations by a Canadian watchdog in regards to complaints alleging there was evidence of forced labour in their production.
The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) published its initial reports for each of the companies in question, responding to a series of complaints which had been filed by a coalition of 28 civil society organisations in June 2022.
Those that are set to face an investigation by the organisation include Hugo Boss Canada, Ralph Lauren Canada and Diesel Canada, as well as Walmart Canada and the Canadian mining company, GobiMin.
According to the complaints, the five companies allegedly have operations or supply chains in the Xinjiang region of the People’s Republic of China that have used or benefitted from the use of Uyghur forced labour.
The region, which produces around a fifth of the world’s cotton, has been the subject of an increasing number of reports over recent years that have claimed around 1.6 million Uyghur Muslims are being held in incarceration camps and are undergoing forced labour.
In response, an array of Western clothing retailers, particularly ones that source their cotton from the area, expressed their concern over the allegations, with some denouncing the country’s reputed methods and others cutting ties with their Xinjiang-based suppliers entirely.
The United Nations (UN) later carried out an official investigation into the allegations surrounding Xinjiang, with its final assessment being that there was evidence of potential forced labour in the region.
Companies fail to provide suitable response to allegations
CORE said that each of the companies it has outlined disputed the allegations, but failed to either provide a suitable response or had not participated in CORE’s initial assessment.
In Ralph Lauren’s case, the brand’s US-parent company responded on behalf of Ralph Lauren Canada stating that the CORE did not have jurisdiction as it was a subsidiary and was not responsible for decision-making.
Ultimately, the organisation opted to proceed with investigations into each of the five companies, with plans to address their specific allegations head on.
The news has come on the heels of another investigation by CORE last month into sportswear giant Nike Canada over similar accusations of utilising or benefitting from forced Uyghur labour.