Forced labor is so pervasive in China’s far west region of Xinjiang — and government control over information is so absolute — that it is nearly impossible to establish if forced labor is being used in supply chains there. But here’s what is known:
Esquel Group gins and spins cotton in Xinjiang.
In July 2020, the US government placed trade restrictions on one of its Xinjiang subsidiaries, Changji Esquel Textile Co., citing concerns over forced labor.
In January 2021, US regulators banned all Xinjiang cotton from entering the US, again citing forced labor.
Since the cotton ban, a different Esquel subsidiary located in Guangdong — hundreds of miles away from Xinjiang — has continued exporting its clothes to brands in the US. But procurement records and company statements reviewed by BuzzFeed News show that Esquel’s Guangdong branch works together with its Xinjiang-based cotton spinning factories. When asked repeatedly, neither Hugo Boss nor Tommy Hilfiger nor Ralph Lauren would say where the cotton in their Esquel shipments comes from.
Esquel’s own public statements make clear that its Xinjiang cotton production is deeply intertwined with its worldwide clothing operation. The company describes itself as “vertically integrated,” meaning that it owns factories for each stage of the cotton supply chain: Esquel’s gins separate cotton fibers from seeds, and those fibers are later spun into yarn in Esquel’s spinning mills. Esquel’s Guangdong factories knit and weave cotton yarn to make cloth, then use this to manufacture clothing that can be exported to the rest