US biotechnology firm Applied DNA Sciences has developed a method to identify genetic markers that are unique to cotton grown in Uzbekistan, where forced human labour is used to cultivate the fibre.
The biomarkers have been tested in raw and ginned cotton and the firm will now be testing yarns and finished textiles.
Uzbekistan is the fifth-largest exporter of cotton worldwide but the Cotton Campaign, Responsible Sourcing Network and other watchdogs have long claimed that its government uses forced child and adult labour on an industry-wide scale.
According to the Cotton Campaign, every year the Uzbek government forces more than a million Uzbek people to work long hours picking cotton for state-run industries under threat of penalties, including loss of their jobs or education.
More than 250 brands and retailers including Inditex, Uniqlo, Primark, Peacocks, Levi’s, H&M and Burberry have signed The Cotton Pledge, promising not to knowingly source cotton from Uzbekistan.