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Jordan's tourism revenues up almost 40% in Q3 2021
Published 24 Oct,2021 via The Jordan Times - Tourism revenues in the third quarter of 2021 increased by 39.35 per cent to reach JD1.207 billion by the end of September compared with the decrease of 72.5 per cent during the January-September period of 2020, the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ) said on Sunday.

Tourism has continued to improve for the sixth consecutive month, where tourism revenues in September increased by JD222.2 million to JD284.7 million compared with September 2020, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported, citing CBJ figures.

The bank attributed the hike to the improvement in the epidemiological situation and the number of vaccinated people in the Kingdom.

CBJ data showed an increase in the number of tourists in September by some 289,000 to around 319,600 tourists.

At a quarterly level, the number of tourists in the January-September period of 2021 went up by some 397,500 to 484,100 visitors, compared with the decline of 73.5 per cent during the same period of 2020.

Non-resident Jordanians comprised 47.4 per cent of the total tourism revenues, Arab tourists (excluding Gulf nationals) 25.3 per cent and Gulf tourists comprised 14 per cent.

Jordanians’ expenditures on tourism abroad in the January-September period of 2021 also went up by 98.6 per cent to JD437.6 million, compared with the 73.4 per cent drop in the same period of 2020, the CBJ added.

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Islamic Lifestyle
Injazat and Kalaam Telecom to collaborate on bringing state-of-the-art Cybersecurity solutions to Bahrain and Kuwait

Published 25 Oct,2021 via bizbahrain - Building cyber defense capabilities in Bahrain and Kuwait took a significant step closer with an agreement signed between Injazat, the UAE’s home-grown technology champion in Digital Transformation, Cloud, and Cyber Security, and Kalaam Telecom, a leading Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Managed Digital Solution provider in the region for digital transformation.

In the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreed between the two companies, they have announced their commitment to collaborate on exploring opportunities towards building a customized Cyber Fusion Center (CFC) in Bahrain and Kuwait and provide Cyber Security services to government and semi-government entities, leveraging both parties’ assets, know-how and capabilities.

The MoU was signed by Ussama Dahabiyeh, Chief Executive Officer at Injazat, and Veer Passi, CEO at Kalaam Telecom, during the GITEX Technology Week that was held at Dubai World Trade Centre last week. Under the agreement, both companies will specifically evaluate the framework to develop high level business plans towards establishing state-of-the-art Cyber Fusion Centres that will significantly bolster the security posture for Kalaam’s client portfolio in both Bahrain and Kuwait. Modelled after Injazat’s very own Cyber Fusion Center, the platform co-created in collaboration with Kalaam will adopt an intelligence-driven, collaborative, and automated security approach much needed for countering advanced security threats.

The region has experienced a significant increase in cybercrime, witnessing 2.57 million phishing attacks over a period of just three months in 2020, as per a recent Kaspersky report; and Middle East governments are acutely aware of the new threat landscape associated with digitization. Injazat’s Cyber Fusion Center is distinctive as it provides a proactive and unified approach to neutralize potential threats before they occur using behaviour analytics and machine learning. The platform leverages an Artificial Intelligence-based recommendation engine, which suggests remediation actions based on previous behaviour patterns and reduces response times.

The partnership will further support Kalaam’s successful track record of over 16 years as a leading provider of mission critical technology infrastructure in supporting more than 5000 enterprises within the GCC region and government bodies alike, in their digital growth. With four data centers, two in Bahrain, and two in Kuwait, supported by its terrestrial fiber cable system, KNOT, and consortium ownership of submarine cable EIG, Kalaam offers fully redundant infrastructure that ensures total reliability to its customers working in partnership with them, to devise tailored, innovative, industry-specific solutions through its consultative approach.

Underlining the significance of the partnership Ussama Dahabiyeh, Chief Executive Officer at Injazat, said: “Our expertise and capability through Injazat’s Cyber Fusion Center stands alone in the MENA region. Our approach consolidates traditional security functions with new capabilities into a single, integrated entity. Through the agreement signed today with Kalaam Telecom, we are delighted to explore the opportunity to collaborate on providing our knowledge and expertise to develop and deploy next-generation cyber capabilities and solutions in Bahrain and Kuwait. Partnerships such as this are part of our strategic approach at Injazat, especially cross border industry partnerships, which are extremely vital in growing the region’s digital economy, accelerating innovation, and supporting an entrepreneurial ecosystem. We eagerly look forward to seeing the results of this partnership being implemented to create a superior integrated defense platform in Bahrain and Kuwait.”

Veer Passi, CEO at Kalaam Telecom said, “We are excited in partnering with Injazat, which will enhance Cyber Security solution capabilities for our customers. With Injazat’s proactive Cyber Fusion Center capabilities, this partnership will aim to offer strong solutions to protect organizations from the rapidly growing cyber-attacks and data breach threats evolving in the internet driven market. Kalaam continues to strengthen its partner ecosystem to offer one-stop digital solutions that meets the demand of enterprises, international carriers, governments, and SMEs within the region, with its highly innovative product lines, including: Managed Networks, IoT, AI, Cloud, Cyber Security solutions and data center services.

Injazat launched the region’s first ever Cyber Fusion Centre (CFC) in June 2020 to boost protection against data breaches and cyber-attacks. The CFC stands apart from any competitor in the radically different approach it takes to cyber defense by proactively managing advanced threats, unlike traditional Security Operations Centers, that is more focused on identifying and reacting to incidents. Cyber Fusion Centers also help organizations to streamline their systems and assimilate information into actionable strategies and tactics, while improving productivity and reducing costs.

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Islamic Lifestyle
Pakistan, Turkey to produce TV series on Salahuddin Ayubi

Published 22 Oct,2021 via Dawn - Pakistan and Turkey will jointly produce a television series on the life of warrior Salahuddin Ayubi as Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday stressed the need to familiarise the young generation with Muslim history and expressed the hope that the use of multimedia could prove helpful in this regard.

“The series on the life of Salahuddin Ayubi will make the youth aware of his historic role,” the prime minister said while meeting filmmaker Shehzad Nawaz and Turkish producer Emre Konuk.

“It is high time to make dramas and films based on historical narrative rather than opting for routine topics,” he said.

In view of the upcoming Pakistan-Turkey joint production of the television series on Salahuddin Ayubi, the prime minister said even the West regarded him as a great man.

PM stresses need for familiarising the young generation with Muslim history

The prime minister said that Salahuddin Ayubi had announced a general amnesty after the historic conquest of Jerusalem.

Senator Faisal Javed, Syed Junaid Ali Shah and Dr Kashif also attended the meeting.

During the meeting, the prime minister was briefed on details of the joint project of the television series between Pakistan and Turkey.

It was highlighted that the planning of the series had been finalised, while shooting of the series will commence in April next year.

Chashma Canal

Prime Minister Khan also chaired a meeting on integrated agriculture and development plan for KPK, especially the Chashma Right Bank Canal (CRBC), and said: “The construction of Lift-cum-Gravity project of Chashma Right Bank Canal (CRBC) would be a real game-changer for the socio-economic uplift of a vast area in southern KPK.”

“Once completed, the project would irrigate around 300,000 acres of barren land in the KPK. This would not only ensure food security in the region but would also earn huge foreign exchange for the country by exporting agricultural produce to the Middle East,” he said.

The prime minister directed authorities concerned to adopt effective measures to boost up corporate farming in the area.

“It would not only raise income levels of farmers in the area but would also kick-start integrated development by eradicating poverty, eliminating hunger and ensuring good education, health care and other civic facilities for the local population,” the prime minister said.

“We need to exploit full potential of the vast natural resources in the area for socio-economic progress of the people,” he said.

 

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Islamic Lifestyle
Pakistan's Colabs wants to build a community of 100,000 entrepreneurs and freelancers

Published 21 Oct,2021 via MENAbytes–Colabs is a Lahore-based startup that builds and operates co-working spaces in Pakistan. It was started in 2019 by twin brothers; Omar and Ali Shah, and currently operates two spaces in Lahore, with a third on the way. On the surface, it seems like just another coworking operator but what sets it apart is its ambition to create the largest community of entrepreneurs and freelancers in the fifth largest country in the world.

“We want to knit together a community of 100,000 entrepreneurs and freelancers in Pakistan, starting with 5,000 seats within the next two years,” stated Colabs co-founder and CEO Omar Shah in a conversation with MENAbytes. He previously spent 7 years working in Dubai as private equity and venture capital investor in emerging markets including Mexico, UAE, Turkey, and Pakistan, before moving back home to Lahore in 2019, to establish [Colabs](https://www.colabs.work). Ali Shah, Omar’s twin brother is a real estate developer in Lahore, who leads the family’s construction and development firm, Sabcon, which develops innovative and modern commercial buildings across Lahore in the past decade.

The startup currently has about 700 members who work from its spaces. It expects to add another 400 when it launches its third site early next year. But how can a coworking company in Pakistan with 700 seats build the capacity for 100,000 members over the next five to seven years, we asked Omar.

(For context, WeWork currently has a capacity of about 60,000 seats in India. It entered the market as a result of a joint venture with a local company in 2017 and has invested tens of millions of dollars to date.)

“As a family, we have been developing and managing properties in Lahore for many decades. Initially, it was traditional real estate but then Ali started Sabcon to do modern, innovative buildings a few years ago, so we understand the space very well. We can design our spaces for more efficient utilization than an average coworking operator and drive higher revenue per square foot at half the build cost. With all the learnings we have from our first two years, we’re ready to scale our spaces all over Pakistan. We’ve created a playbook that allows us to quickly turn buildings of different sizes into coworking spaces in a few months.”

When asked if there’s enough demand in Pakistan to sell 100,000 seats, he stated that the rate at which startup and freelance ecosystems of Pakistan are growing, they won’t have any issues in terms of demand, “It is more about creating the capacity to serve the demand.”

Colabs has been largely bootstrapped until now but to move forward with its expansion, it would need external money, “We had raised a small friend and family round when we started the company and didn’t have to raise any capital after that. We’re now considering raising a seed round as there’s a lot of inbound interest and we’re ready to scale our product.” said Omar, speaking to MENAbytes, without disclosing the details of how much they’re looking to raise. He said that the economics of the business are very strong and they’re profitable even today if they stop investing in growth.

The coworking operator also has plans to go beyond selling office space and seats, “We’ve built a community of startups, SMEs, large corporates and some very talented freelancers who come and work from our spaces daily and we’re constantly trying to think how we can serve them better. One small example is that we recently started offering an end-to-end payroll management service for our clients after receiving multiple requests for it,” stated Fatima Mazhar, the recently appointed Chief Operating Officer of Colabs.

She was one of the first ten employees at Careem and led the company’s expansion into 100 cities as its Head of Expansion. Speaking about why she decided to join Colabs in spite of having offers from different leading startups and technology companies in Pakistan, she stated, “Once you visit Colabs, you immediately want to become a part of it. I have always been attracted to ambitious startups that are trying to reimagine the local landscape of their industry. Colabs wasn’t the first coworking space in the country but it was the first one to think on a scale that can make a real difference to the future of work in Pakistan.”

Commenting further on what makes Colabs different from other players in the market, she said, “Our community and network is what we are really proud of. That’s what we believe differentiates us from an average space in the country. We are also using technology to optimize our processes and connect everyone who’s part of our spaces. From incorporation to payroll management, we’re trying to introduce different types of services to help people start up and then scale their companies.”

In addition to helping local startups, Colabs has also made it easy for different international technology startups (and companies) to open their offices in Pakistan by providing them with space and other services, “We have a one-stop-shop offering for international companies that enables them to set up a presence in Pakistan,” stated Fatima in her conversation with MENAbytes.

Since its launch, Colabs has partnered with over 100 entities to organize events and offer different types of perks to their communities. Some of the notable events that they’ve hosted at their spaces include Uber Pitch and She Loves Tech. The company also has its own line of in-person and online sessions where they interview founders and investors from the startup ecosystem of Pakistan. They’re now also working on an employment platform that will connect tech talent with startups in the country.

The Lahore-based startup has built a strong foundation in the last two years but it would have to punch above its weight to be able to achieve its objective of building a community of 100,000 members.

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Islamic Lifestyle
Indonesia prepares Garuda backup plan if debt talks fall apart

Published 19 Oct,2021 via Bloomberg Markets - Indonesia is preparing a backup plan for flag carrier PT Garuda Indonesia if it fails to reach a deal with creditors, including the option of upgrading air charter PT Pelita Air Service to a scheduled airline.

The course of Garuda’s current talks with creditors hinges on a court decision on a debt petition against the airline, with the ruling set to be announced Thursday, Kartika Wirjoatmodjo, a deputy minister at the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry, said by text message on Tuesday.

While the government still expects Garuda to be able to reach a settlement with creditors, there needs to be a backup plan in case of a deadlock, Wirjoatmodjo said. Garuda is struggling with about $5 billion of liabilities and needs to halve its fleet to keep the business afloat.

Pelita, a unit of Indonesia’s state energy company PT Pertamina, filed an application this month to upgrade its permit to be able to offer scheduled flights, in addition to chartered ones it currently offers. The new permit would allow Pelita to operate at the same capacity as existing airlines, such as Garuda and PT Lion Mentari Airlines.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved

 

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Islamic Lifestyle
Egypt, Africa cooperate in developing communications infrastructure

Published 17 Oct,2021 via Daily News Egypt - Amr Talaat, Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology, said that all African countries, including Egypt, face the same challenges, and have plenty of opportunities and ambition to achieve the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which aims to improve the standard of living of the continent’s citizens.

Talaat delivered a speech Sunday at the Gitex Global 2021 exhibition and conference.

He pointed out that several factors can enable the African continent to achieve its vision, including developing the communications infrastructure and providing Internet services at reasonable prices, while developing the legislative and regulatory framework.

He highlighted Egypt’s cooperation with the African countries in developing communications infrastructure. This included implementing a project through Telecom Egypt, which provides high-quality and high-speed Internet services to African countries, in addition to many other Egyptian projects in African countries to enable them to reach Internet and digital inclusion.

During the session, Talaat added that the communications and information technology sector is the country’s fastest growing sector, with a growth rate of 16%. He pointed out that Egypt’s efforts in developing the communications infrastructure contributed to challenging the changes resulting from the pandemic. Furthermore, a massive project is being implemented to provide high-speed internet to one million households within the first phase of the “Decent Life” initiative.

He pointed out that Egypt hosts data centers to serve local, regional and global markets. It is also adopting a legislative framework that reflects Egypt’s digital needs, including the law of electronic signatures, intellectual property, information technology crimes, personal data protection, and the anticipated e-commerce law. The National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA) also approved the regulatory framework for establishing data centers and providing cloud computing services.

Talaat stressed that young people are the real wealth in Africa, and also a key driver of digital transformation. He stressed the state’s keenness on empowering youth and building digital capabilities by providing specialized training at multiple levels and with different models, including the digital learning model, while giving attention to refining young people’s skills to qualify them for the free labor market. This is in addition to providing programs to sponsor technological innovation and develop startups. It resulted in establishing seven Digital Egypt Creativity Centers in Egyptian governorates. Moreover, 10 others are being established, to support entrepreneurs and SMEs and provide incubators for startups.

He pointed out that the Knowledge City is being established in the New Administrative Capital as an integrated information society that includes all elements of the communications and information technology system.

He also reviewed the efforts exerted in the framework of cooperation with the countries of the African continent, including the implementation of an initiative to develop the capabilities of 10,000 Egyptian and African youth to develop digital games and applications using the latest technologies, as well as stimulate the establishment of 100 Egyptian and African startup companies in this field. 7,000 young people and 78 startups have benefited from the initiative so far.

Furthermore, the Egyptian-African Center for Training in the Field of Communications Regulation was established, with the aim of creating professional cadres capable of dealing with the challenges of the sector. It is the first of its kind in Africa. In addition, a training center specialized in building capacity through the Regional Postal Training Center is established. The center was accredited by the Universal Postal Union as a regional postal training center in the Middle East and Africa.

He also explained that cooperation is taking place within the framework of the activities of the work group of artificial intelligence within the African Union to utilize this technology to meet the needs of several sectors in the African continent, including health, education and agriculture. He explained that Egypt University of Informatics (EUI) was also established as the first university in Africa and the Middle East specialized in communications and information technology and related fields. It aims to create professional cadres in the field of information and communication technology through partnership with prestigious international universities.

He went on to explain that Africa has opportunities for joint cooperation in several areas, including digital inclusion, global communication, capacity building, and the use of artificial intelligence technology, in addition to enhancing confidence and security in the digital environment in a way that is in line with the continent’s goals for the year 2063.

The African Continental Free Trade Zone can be used in deepening the integration of African countries into regional and global value chains. It is also essential to prioritize work according to the needs of African countries, while relying on their peoples to implement projects in cooperation with partners from inside and outside the continent. He highlighted the increase in the number of population within the continent with access to the Internet, which increased from 21.8% in 2013 to 41.9% in 2019.

© 2021 Daily News Egypt.

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Islamic Lifestyle
Indonesian firm Alami shortens work week to boost productivity and spirituality

JAKARTA – Indonesian Sharia peer-to-peer lending firm Alami has begun adopting a four day work week to boost the mental health and productivity of its employees.

Dima Djani, CEO of Alami, said its 300 employees are now allowed to take Fridays off so they can have more time with family, hobbies or praying. The company provides several optional prayer activities on Friday such as reading Surah Al-Kahfi and Islamic studies.

This aligns with the company's campaign of prayer-work-life balance with programs such as reading and memorizing Al-Quran each morning. “We see our employees as not only numbers. At the end of the day, they are all human beings with various needs. No one wants their job to become an additional reason for stress. We hope our employees can work happier and healthier, both physically and mentally, so they can improve their productivity and working spirit,” Djani told Salaam Gateway.

He said the company will evaluate the four day program in the next three months before making it a permanent policy. The initiative was inspired by Henley Business School’s whitepaper “Four Better or For Worse?” released in 2019. It revealed that 64 percent of 505 UK business leaders reported increases in staff productivity and work quality due to a reduction of sick days and overall increased well-being.

Employees across the world have been facing burnout during the Covid19 pandemic, leading to significant turnover rates. In the US, more than 4 million people have resigned since April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Indonesian fishery startup eFishery implemented a permanent work-from-anywhere policy last month to maintain the mental health of its nearly 700 employees.

Meanwhile, Indonesian state owned train operator PT Kereta Api provides psychological counseling for some 30,000 employees via telephone interview, chat, or video calls. The counseling is not limited to work issues, but also covers family and personal problems that impact productivity.

 

© SalaamGateway.com 2021 All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
China is forcing fashion to mute itself over dirty cotton

Published 14 Oct,2021 via Bloomberg Markets - When a fashion industry sustainability group called out China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, the idea was to nudge Beijing toward human-rights reforms while cleaning up a troubled corner of the $60 billion global cotton business. Western brands have learned the hard way that things don’t work that way in China.

In the 12 months since the Better Cotton Initiative, whose members range from Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing Co. to Nike Inc. to Walmart Inc., published a statement on allegations of forced labor in the cotton-growing Xinjiang region, several brands have suffered major setbacks in China, one of the world’s biggest producers and consumers of the fabric.

The organization missed production targets last year and companies including Levi Strauss & Co. and Chinese sneaker maker Anta Sports Products Ltd. have scaled back their involvement. Others have gone quiet, pulling statements of concern about the situation in Xinjiang from their websites. Hennes & Mauritz AB’s revenue in China, once its fourth-largest market, fell 40% in the most recent quarter.

Although the BCI statement has long vanished from the group’s website, there’s little sign of a truce. Instead, China, which says claims of human-rights violations are unfounded, is escalating its response. In late September it launched a recruitment drive for a sustainability certification program that would undercut the BCI, with the first applications to join due by Friday.

The escalating conflict shows how difficult it can be for brands to satisfy demands from western consumers and human-rights groups for greater sustainability without risking open war with China, which has become more willing to wield its clout to defend its policies. It’s also a potential setback for the broader ESG movement that’s rallying institutional investors around the banner of improved environmental, social and governance targets.

“It’s really terrible if companies start feeling they can’t speak out against atrocities because of a fear of backlash,” said Therese Kieve, stewardship analyst at Sarasin & Partners, which holds shares of Asos Plc and Associated British Foods Plc, owner of the Primark chain. “Then nothing’s going to change.”

The Geneva-based BCI declined to comment on China for this article.

Comfort, convenience and relatively low cost have made cotton the world’s most widely used textile fiber. More than 26 million tons is plucked from shrubs annually and spun into yarn. That’s enough to provide at least two dozen T-shirts for everyone on the planet.

But there’s an ugly side to that success. Growing cotton can often require vast amounts of water and pesticides. Labor practices are hard to police in the remote fields where much of it is grown.

The Better Cotton Initiative was created in 2009, pooling industry efforts to clean up the supply chain. The group tries to help farmers transition to greener methods, while making sure cotton remains affordably priced. The organization also says it refuses to operate in countries where forced labor is “orchestrated by the government.”

The confrontation that erupted last October followed the U.S. government’s decision to ban some imports from Xinjiang, where it says Chinese authorities are detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in “re-education” camps in what constitutes an ongoing genocide. China has repeatedly denied these claims.

While the BCI didn’t withdraw altogether from China, it said it would focus on other regions of the country. Beijing responded with fierce criticism of western fashion brands, prompting calls for boycotts. Landlords closed some H&M stores in retaliation for an undated statement on its website that expressed concern about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang.

Dozens of Chinese celebrities ended their contracts with BCI member firms including H&M, Adidas AG and Nike, with former Burberry Group Plc brand ambassador and actress Zhou Dongyu saying the trenchcoat maker had not “clearly and publicly” stated its stance on cotton from Xinjiang.

The flap highlighted a quandary for the foreign labels, said Veronica Bates Kassatly, independent analyst of sustainability claims in the global apparel sector and a former World Bank economist.

“They cannot afford to upset Chinese consumers and they cannot afford to upset Chinese manufacturers, either,” she said.

The BCI has expanded so quickly — it now has more than 2,100 members — and become so prevalent that its production represents almost a quarter of global cotton output. 2.4 million farmers are licensed to sell cotton certified by the organization, which is funded through membership dues and a levy on sales.

There’s also an incentive to becoming a member, as BCI-certified products help fashion giants burnish their sustainability credentials. New members continue to join -- nearly 190 in the first half. Among them is Boohoo Group Plc, the British online fast-fashion retailer seeking to clean up its own supply chain.

Few big brands will talk openly about their discussions with the BCI on how to police Xinjiang cotton. Burberry, for example, scrubbed references to the group in its annual report published in June, after citing the organization a year earlier. BCI lists Burberry as a member on its website. The company declined to comment for this story.

“Companies are doing everything they can to avoid these types of public conversations,” Bertille Knuckey, co-head of ESG Research at Sycomore Asset Management. “Now they are just avoiding really engaging on the topic.”

Once the BCI published the statement on alleged human-rights violations, some members expressed frustration that it had gone beyond its primary mission of environmental sustainability and strayed into areas where it did not have adequate knowledge or expertise, people familiar with the situation said.

Levi Strauss’s new chief sustainability officer, Jeff Hogue, who joined last year, decided not to take up a seat on the BCI council even though the retailer, which backed the formation of the program, was due to hold that position until 2022. Levi’s, which remains a member of the BCI, said Hogue is currently focused on the upcoming release of the company’s first sustainability report and ESG disclosure.

At the height of the boycott crisis, BCI said the decision to suspend licensing would prevent almost 500,000 tons of Xinjiang cotton from entering the global supply chain.

The provenance of cotton is hard to trace because of the many stages in the production process. It starts with raw cotton produced in remote villages in countries such as China, India or Mozambique. Seeds are extracted, bolls are removed and the fiber is spun into yards. They’re transported to mills that produce and dye the fabric — often with toxic products and little environmental oversight. The textiles are sold to clothing manufacturers, which ship finished products to stores worldwide.

The fashion and apparel industry was shaken to its core in 2013 when a garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh. The tragedy resulted in more than 1,000 deaths, putting the spotlight on an industry that long pushed profit at the expense of the wellbeing of those at the bottom of the production chain.

Following the incident, brands vowed to improve labor standards, including an increase in the number of labels and certifications meant to show that the industry is tackling abusive working practices.

Authorities from France to the U.S. are carrying out investigations that may shed more light on what is happening in Xinjiang.

Several French campaign groups lodged a legal complaint in April against two BCI members: Japan’s Uniqlo and Spain’s Inditex SA, the parent of Zara. Also named were French fashion group SMCP SA, which owns brands like Maje and Sandro, as well as Skechers USA Inc. The complaint accused the four companies of profiting from forced labor of China’s Uyghur minority as well as crimes against humanity. French prosecutors started an investigation in June.

SMCP and Inditex both strongly denied the accusations and said they will fully cooperate with the probe. Inditex said traceability controls are carried out “rigorously” on its clothing. Fast Retailing said there’s no forced labor in its supply chain and it intends to cooperate with authorities if contacted. Skechers declined to comment on pending litigation, but said previous supplier audits found no use of forced labor.

A criminal complaint was filed last month against the C&A fashion chain and other retailers by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, accusing them of “directly or indirectly abetting and profiting from alleged forced labor of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang,” and being “involved in crimes against humanity.” C&A, a BCI member, says it doesn’t have supplier contracts in the region and doesn’t tolerate forced labor or unauthorized subcontracting in its supply chain.

The association uses so-called “mass balance,” a widely employed volume tracking system, that allows farmers and manufacturers to mix Better Cotton with conventionally grown fabric while benefiting from the label. The system has allowed the BCI to dramatically increase the volume of Better Cotton sold worldwide. But the lack of transparency and full traceability has raised concerns.

“Due to the mass balance approach, there is a potential risk that cotton from the Xinjiang region may be included within BCI cotton,” a spokesperson for British apparel chain Next Plc said. To try to avoid that, the company has explicitly banned the use of cotton from the area.

The BCI has said it’s moving toward a better traceability program in the coming months. C&A is calling for changes in the program.

“It is also time to open up the debate about what are the steps needed to increase the traceability of cotton and what are the opportunities that will arise from it,” said Betty Kiess, a spokeswoman. C&A will continue to collaborate with the organization, she said.

Incremental progress on environmental goals is better than nothing, some brand owners say. Tendam, the Spanish owner of the Women’secret lingerie label, joined the BCI this summer. The initiative is encouraging growers to adopt “better behaviors,” including reduced water usage, said Ignacio Sierra, corporate general manager at Tendam.

Whether global brands embrace China’s own sustainable cotton certification program is an open question. They may need to if they wish to keep selling in that market, and some clothes could even be manufactured solely for the Chinese market based on this label, according to a person familiar with the BCI’s work.

“The standards of BCI are too general and may not be suitable for cotton grown in China,” Wang Wenkui, an executive at the China Cotton Industry Alliance, told the Global Times. The Chinese guidelines will set out specific growing practices, including temperature and regulation of pesticides.

“I’m quite confident that our cotton growing standards will replace the BCI standards in the future,” Wang said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

 

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