Report: Temu Encouraged Suppliers to Use Chinese Cotton, Ignoring Slavery Risk

A protester from the Uyghur community living in Turkey, holds an anti-China placard during
AP Photo, Getty Images

Chinese cheap goods e-marketplace Temu “encouraged” suppliers to use Chinese cotton in their products despite the vast majority of that cotton being produced in occupied East Turkistan, the technology news site The Information alleged in a report published on Thursday, apparently disregarding the risk of using materials tainted by slave labor.

Temu, which is affiliated with the Chinese online company Pinduoduo, is a dominant presence in American commerce, shelling millions in February to buy three Super Bowl ads and launch a campaign featuring “$15 million in coupons and other giveaways.” It sells household goods, clothing, and other basic items at steep discounts, undercutting American competitors, and ships directly to buyers. By doing so, it avoids scrutiny under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which bans all imports from East Turkistan unless the importer can demonstrate proof that slave labor was not involved in the production of manufacturing of the imports. The UFLPA does not apply to shipments worth less than $800, an exception known as de minimis that covers nearly all Temu purchases.

East Turkistan is the homeland of the ethnic Uyghur people and several other Turkic minorities. Colonized under Mao Zedong and rebranded the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province,” its indigenous residents have faced rampant discrimination for decades that erupted into a full-blown genocide under current dictator Xi Jinping. Since taking power in 2013, Xi has constructed hundreds of concentration camps to house non-Han people. Survivors of the camps say they were forced to renounce their religion – predominantly Islam – worship Xi, an endure unspeakable atrocities such as gang-rape using electric devices, forced sterilization and abortions, extreme torture, and slavery. Substantial evidence suggests some concentration camp victims are being killed to steal and sell their organs.

The Chinese Communist Party has insisted for years that the camps are actually “vocational and educational training” centers and began to claim in 2019 that it had emptied the camps because its prisoners had “graduated” their “vocational training.” In reality, as human rights researchers later revealed, the Chinese government is overseeing a massive online slave market in which slavetraders sell Uyghurs and others to supplying factories in “batches of 50 to 100” people. Many of those not sold to factories were sent to pick cotton, one of “Xinjiang’s” most lucrative industries.

Temu has previously argued that it is not subject to the UFLPA because it “is not the importer of record with respect to goods shipped to the United States.” It appeared to respond to growing scrutiny in America, however, following the publication of a report by the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party in June that concluded there was “an extremely high risk that Temu’s supply chains are contaminated with forced labor.”

The House report also found evidence that Temu not only failed to avoid slave-tained cotton, but actively advertised some products as made from “Xinjiang cotton.”

According to The Information, Temu “started requiring its apparel suppliers that use cotton to produce a certificate of origin showing the raw material wasn’t sourced in Xinjiang” shortly after the release of the House report.

The policy, the Information report alleged, was cosmetic and rapidly rescinded once attention in America veered elsewhere. The report cited suppliers that make products for Temu who requested to remain anonymous, describing Temu as “critical” for the survival of their companies.

“Temu made an abrupt about-face on its certificate of origin requirement, scrapping it within weeks, the suppliers said,” the outlet claimed. “The suppliers said that after that change in policy, Temu staff assured them the risk of running afoul of the U.S. import ban is low and encouraged them to follow whatever Temu’s latest policy is to continue working with the platform.”

The Information said that, beyond disregarding the risk of using slave-produced materials, Temu “encouraged them [the suppliers] to continue using cotton from China instead of sourcing from other countries.”

The vast majority of Chinese cotton comes from East Turkistan, with estimates ranging between 80 and 90 percent. The Information reported that 87 percent of China’s cotton comes from the occupied Uyghur region.

The technology publication shared the story of one supplier who had found new cotton supplies in Vietnam but returned to using Chinese cotton by the end of 2023 after Temu “staff said not to worry about the risks and to focus on making new designs and ramping up production.” The suppliers all noted that finding foreign sources of cotton was more expensive than sourcing from slavery-tainted East Turkistan.

Temu told The Information that it exercises “rigorous oversight” of its supply chain.

“Merchandise partners are required to provide supporting documentation supporting compliance with sourcing regulations upon request,” a statement from the company read in part. It did not specify how often it makes those requests, but claimed the standard is “in line with those of major U.S. e-commerce platforms, such as Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.”

The de minimis loophole that allows companies like Temu to avoid the standards of the UFLPA is facing growing resistance in the U.S. federal government. In the Senate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Import Security and Fairness Act this year that would definitively eliminate the loophole, which Sen. Rubio told Breitbart News in January Chinese companies exploit “to avoid tariffs and accountability for their ties to slave labor.”

“Every day we wait, millions more packages from Communist China flood into our country, endangering American customers and undermining American businesses,” Sen. Rubio told Breitbart News.

On April 5, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a plan to intercept more de minimis packages and inspect them for signs of violations of American law.

“Two of DHS’s agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), will further enhance their work together to protect the integrity of our markets, hold perpetrators accountable for customs violations, and safeguard the American textile industry,” DHS said in a statement.

The plan includes provisions for “cracking down on small package shipments to prohibit illicit goods from U.S. markets by improving screening of packages claiming the Section 321 de minimis exemption for textile, UFLPA, and other violations, including expanded targeting, laboratory and isotopic testing, and focused enforcement operations.”

DHS noted in its statement that, in addition to supporting human rights atrocities, allowing companies relying on slave labor to compete with legitimate American commerce hurts American businesses. The plan announced this month apparently followed a meeting with leaders in the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO).

“NCTO explained the significant harm that the textile industry is suffering at the hands of unscrupulous individuals and entities who create an unfair market by circumventing the operation of our nation’s free trade agreements,” DHS relayed, “violating the UFLPA, and exploiting the de minimis shipment exception that is established in law.”

The dramatic expansion of China’s presence in U.S. markets has been especially devastating for the textile and embroidery industry, previously critical to the economies of many communities in the Northeast United States.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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