However, this is a lengthy process. “In an ideal world, every brand would know which farm their cotton comes from but this is likely to take a few years,” says Ghosh. But, it is worth investing in this now: “Assuming such laws are going to come more and more, brands should make those investments [in gathering data to trace their supply chains] now so that by 2025 or 2026 they’re ready.” Ghosh recommends that brands start by mapping their supply chain and understanding who their supplier for tier one (manufacturers who cut, make and trim the garment), tier two (fabric) and tier three (yarn) before creating a blacklist of any vendors that do not comply with regulations. Ghosh says brands should aim to have traceability to at least tier three within the next two years.

Experts say we’re likely to see brands divesting from Chinese cotton completely to safeguard themselves. “If brands are serious about [avoiding Xinjiang cotton completely] then they need to enter into some kind of transition phase where they seek to buy cotton from elsewhere in the world,” says Knight. “But, I think it’s going to be very tough for brands that are truly committed to complying to still buy Chinese cotton, because it’s going to be really tough to separate the Xinjiang cotton from wider China.”

There is a risk of alienating Chinese suppliers and consumers. “The tightrope being walked for a lot of these brands is that by complying with international norms and signalling that they’re not sourcing from Xinjiang, that puts them on a direct collision course with Chinese consumers,” explains Knight. Brands that have weaker ties to the Chinese consumer population, don’t offer a localised experience, and haven’t invested in relationships with local manufacturers and authorities are likely to face more scrutiny, he adds.

A consumer backlash in China last year over brands like Adidas and Nike who said they no longer use Xinjiang cotton, highlighted the risk. “A lot of domestic Chinese brands apply banners to their e-commerce stores explicitly saying ‘we continue to use Xinjiang cotton.’ It’s become somewhat of a nationalist badge of honour and I don’t see that going away anytime soon,” says Knight.

Experts warn that other countries are likely to follow in the footsteps of the US and develop similar laws. Last month, the European Parliament asked for a legislative proposal on an effective traceability mechanism for goods linked to forced and child labour, which could lead to an import ban on such goods coming into the EU.

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