Tracing Cotton’s DNA: Can technology help eradicate forced labour from global cotton supplies?

Magazine for Textiles, Clothing, Leather and Technology

A confrontation continues to rise between Western powers, global brands, and the Chinese authorities over the use of forced labour and human rights abuse in cotton production in the western region of Xinjiang. Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, explains why transparency from the Chinese authorities over the whole cotton supply chain is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Listen to the episode at BBC’s Business Daily

With that in mind, some technology companies are volunteering their services to mark or trace the DNA of cotton, so apparel companies can be sure that it’s not from a region with suspected forced labour. Jim Hayward, CEO of Applied DNA Sciences, explains how their particular cotton tagging technology works. But John Gapper, business columnist at the Financial Times, cautions that without larger industry willingness to uproot their business models, at considerable cost, the tech can only go so far to solve the problem.

Today’s apparel supply chain is in dire need of an accountability check. As brands today deliver bold promises such as “ethically made” jeans or “sustainably sourced” jackets, more consumers are demanding the proof behind these statements.

But while there are many actors throughout the supply chain, it is ultimately the brand that is still responsible for the authenticity and traceability of the apparel it sells, according to Wayne Buchen, vice president of strategic sales at Applied DNA Sciences, a provider of supply chain security, anti-counterfeiting and anti-theft technologies.

Read more and watch the interview at Sourcing Journal