The world is certainly a different place to when we were founded 20 years ago. In that time, we have seen this industry change, and in many ways started to face up to the role it has played in the exploitation of people around the world, as well as the environment we all live in.
Mantis World was founded on principles of fairness for all and we are proud our record reflects this. We pledged early on to never buy cotton from Uzbekistan, where forced labour of adults and children to help with the harvest had been widely reported, and intensive over-irrigation from the Aral Sea was causing enormous environmental damage. Our continued membership and contribution to organisations like the Textile Exchange and Fashion Revolution, set up in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, have allowed us to work in collaboration with like-minded people towards a better industry for all.
A changing world is one that often presents new challenges and new problems for us to face, to publicly condemn, and to make a difference.
It’s estimated that 20% of the world’s cotton comes from China, mostly grown in the Xinjiang province. Human rights groups believe that over 1 million people from the Uighur community, a minority ethnic group who have traditionally called the province home, have been detained by the Chinese government. Detainees have described being separated from their families and being held in inhumane conditions. Numerous reports have cited harassment, sexual assault, torture and even forced sterilisation as part of their experience in these detention centres.
Detainees are also reported to be being used as an unpaid workforce, in manufacturing of tech and textiles – including the labour-intensive harvesting of cotton. Their hours are long, living conditions unsanitary and crowded, and are subject to 24-hour surveillance – all signifiers of forced labour according to the International Labour Organisation.
Public awareness about this crisis has certainly grown, and in the wake of the pandemic and the changing landscape of geopolitics, the pressure on the Chinese government is increasing. However, it’s still believed one in five cotton garments globally has been produced in the province. High street retailers have increasingly been caught out for manufacturing in the region. Furthermore, customers are becoming aware that the garments they have been buying from trusted brands have been potentially produced by slave labour, touched by a genocide occurring on the other side of the world.
The responsibility is on all of us – as manufacturers and as consumers – to make the right choice about where we source our raw materials from and where we buy our clothes from. To ensure that we were not unwittingly buying cotton from countries where human rights abuses were occurring, we have a traceability map that goes as far back as the raw cotton. We established this many years ago and in the face of current events, both in Xinjiang and unfortunately in many other parts of the world, we are very grateful we can say with conviction that our cotton comes only from certified and known organic farmers in India and Tanzania. Our supply chain is backed up from field to finish by third-party certification bodies, who are trusted industry-wide to be impartial and hold us to the highest possible standard.
We believe transparency is the key to changing the textile industry into a fairer and more open one, and we promise to always be clear about the origin of any Mantis World products. We take our code of conduct seriously and promise to always implement it at every stage of production. In 2020 we began to roll out QR codes in our garments, which allows the wearer to see the journey of production and understand the origins of the cotton used. We want to give consumers confidence in their choices, and to help encourage an open conversation in our industry about honesty and clarity.
We also pledge to keep working with organisations who are investigating and shining a light on the human rights abuses the Uighur people are facing and to use our voice as a company to speak up against the atrocities being committed. We hope other brands will do the same. Organisations such as the Fairwear Foundation are committed to working with brands that manufacture in the region, helping them to spot injustices and eliminate them at the source, whilst Fashion Revolution continue to give a voice to the Uighur people and put a spotlight on the atrocities being committed.
We have changed things collectively before, there’s no reason we cannot again.