Suddenly, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a Swiss based organisation has been thrust into the limelight after it decided to suspend licensing of BCI cotton from Xinjiang.
But who are they and why does it matter?
Machines are replacing hundreds of thousands of migrant workers picking cotton in Xinjiang, the biggest cotton production base in the country. [Photo/Xinhua]
They are important in the world of cotton – just like coffee and timber – cotton is grown in places where poverty exists. India, Africa, the US Southern States and South America. Wherever a marketable commodity and poverty exist together there are always ample opportunities for both business growth with a sustainable future or possible exploitation. So, “non-profit organisations” (NPOs) spring up in the industry to help “for profit” organisations maintain an ethical facade. For the cotton industry, BCI is the “go to” organisation. Growing out of a World Wildlife Fund meeting in 2005, they now ensure that not only is the cotton sustainably farmed, it’s ethically produced, processed and sent to market. They’ve been actively doing so around the world since 2010 and in China since 2013.
In relation to Xinjiang, Damian Sanfilippo, the Director of Standards for BCI was quoted on the BBC recently as saying: “We’ve identified the risk that poor, rural communities would be coerced into employment linked to this poverty alleviation programme”. However, BCI have been active in the region for many years and have never reported anywhere on their website , their information bulletins, to their members or in any media at all that they are aware it HAS happened, merely that there is a risk it might.
The BCI Shanghai office said no 'forced labor' found in Xinjiang in past 8 years.
BCI announced recently that they have withdrawn their services from Xinjiang and are no longer providing reports from the region. This is a most interesting development when we look at the reasons behind it. Not, as media would have the world believe, because of their concerns – if they had evidence of forced labour or oppression these would have been listed and highlighted on their website, and would of course, have been the subject of many western media reports. They don’t have and they haven’t reported any such findings.
BCI have withdrawn from Xinjiang after 8 years of operations and no longer provide reports or analysis from the region because they are concerned that organisations operating there are, or will be subject to sanctions from the USA. Sanctions would destroy, both the reputation of BCI and any future work they do with US organisations, or any other organisations using US Dollars – they would lose massive funding and support from the world’s third largest cotton producers.
The world’s largest cotton producers include China, India and the USA. Throughout the world the cotton industry continues to grow but it’s becoming more expensive to produce cotton and some volatility has been brought about because of the pandemic – Cotton manufacturers have been hit hard by COVID-19.
African American slaves were picking cotton in Texas. [File photo]
Historically, in the USA, slave labour was used to farm cotton, something which didn’t happen in China or India, where the preference was to use cheap local or immigrant labour. This now seems to be the situation in the USA too, but the available workforce there is diminished by the reduction in migrant workers who usually cross the border to work. So, the future of the industry, at least in the short term, and in places where COVID-19 is not yet under control looks vulnerable. When your market is under threat, one good way to sustain (and even increase) market prices is to deny access to the world’s largest market – this appears to be happening now in Xinjiang.