Hugo Boss has quietly removed the subsidiaries of a Chinese textile giant from its list of suppliers days after BuzzFeed News raised questions about the Chinese company’s deep ties to the Xinjiang region, where forced labor is rampant.
Last month, BuzzFeed News reported that Hugo Boss and several other major clothing brands continued to ship clothes made by Esquel Group, a company that gins and spins cotton at facilities in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is leading a massive and forced labor imprisonment campaign targeting Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities.
Forced labor is so prevalent in the region and supply chain audits are so difficult to conduct that it is almost impossible to establish whether forced labor is used there, experts say. The United States imposed trade restrictions on one of Esquel’s Xinjiang-based subsidiaries in July 2020 and in January 2021 banned all cotton from Xinjiang, each time citing concerns about forced labor.
But Hugo Boss and other clothing brands continued to source clothes from other Esquel companies based in Guangdong, southern China, and import them into the United States to sell. Sourcing records and company statements reviewed by BuzzFeed News show that Esquel’s Guangdong branch works with its Xinjiang-based cotton mills, and Esquel’s own public statements clearly indicate that its production of cotton in Xinjiang is deeply linked to its global clothing business.
Since the ban on all cotton began, at least 17 Esquel shipments have arrived in the United States for Hugo Boss, according to Panjiva shipping records.
Hugo Boss did not respond to a question about why it changed its supplier list, and Esquel did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The BuzzFeed News article was published on January 13. According to archived versions of the brand’s website at the Internet Archive, Esquel companies were removed from the supplier list between January 15 and 24.
Around this time, another shipment from Esquel arrived in the United States. Carrying cotton shirts and pants, the cargo arrived at the Port of Seattle aboard a container ship called the OOCL Oakland, destined for Hugo Boss Canada, according to Panjiva shipping records. The loot was worth $50,100.
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