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Vietnamese garment manufacturers struggle to comply with U.S. ban on Xinjiang cotton

Vietnam’s heavy reliance on cotton imports from China could lead it to fall foul of a U.S. ban on cotton produced by forced labor in Xinjiang province. Vietnamese manufacturers say it is hard to prove where the fabric in their garments comes from.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) came into force on June 21, after being signed into law by U.S. President Joe Biden last December.

The move has reportedly led fashion chains such as Japan’s United Arrows to stop selling clothes made from Xinjiang cotton.

According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center (BHRRC) countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, the world’s second and third largest garment exporters, still depend heavily on imports of Chinese fabric and yarn, particularly high-end materials.

“As a result, campaign groups and some Western politicians have accused manufacturers of “cotton laundering” in places such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, for serving as intermediaries in cotton garment production,” the center said.

Last month the Bangladesh Garment Buying House Association asked its members to be careful where they sourced their raw materials to avoid falling foul of the new U.S. regulations.

Last year Bangladesh’s garment exports to the U.S. earned it $7.18 billion. Vietnam’s garment exports to America brought in more than double that, at $15.4 billion, according to the U.S. Office of Textiles and Apparel.

The BHRRC said that one Chinese garment manufacturer who owns a factory in Vietnam said proving the origin of fabrics and threads involved a lengthy due-diligence process.

“It is hard to distinguish the cotton products entering Vietnam from different sources because they may have been mixed together while being transported at sea. Suppliers may do this so they can deceptively label Xinjiang cotton as coming from elsewhere, to circumvent the US law,” the manufacturer told the center.

RFA spoke with the director of an apparel firm in Vietnam’s northern Nam Dinh province.

“My company is producing apparel products for a China-based company which uses materials from its country and exports to the U.S.,” he said.

“Due to the UFLPA it has ordered less from us. It seems that our Chinese partner cannot sell its products so it has stopped ordering [so much] from us.”

The Vietnam Cotton and Spinning Association referred RFA to comments given by Vice President Do Pham Ngoc Tu to China’s Global Times. He told the newspaper that Vietnamese garment manufacturers will have to ‘wean themselves off’ raw materials produced in Xinjiang if they want to continue exporting to the U.S.

One fifth of the world’s cotton comes from Xinjiang, making it hard for manufacturers to find adequate supplies from countries that do not use forced labor.

Ignoring the ban would mean falling foul of the world’s biggest garment importer. The U.S. ships all but 5% of its apparel from overseas.