Ms. Apter said that while no Eileen Fisher garments were being made in Xinjiang and that it wasn’t getting fabric or yarn from the region, the company didn’t know whether any of the cotton fiber it was using could be traced to Xinjiang.
“Two years of pandemic and a deteriorating political situation made it impossible to fully vet what is happening on the ground,” Ms. Apter said.
How the Supply Chain Crisis Unfolded
The pandemic sparked the problem. The highly intricate and interconnected global supply chain is in upheaval. Much of the crisis can be traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:
The company debated what to do.
“You know, maybe this farm got certified, but we have no way to independently audit, the people are intimidated, the auditors don’t want to work on the ground anymore, it’s impossible to really go by that,” Ms. Apter said, recalling the discussion.
By 2021, Eileen Fisher had removed any Xinjiang cotton fiber from its supply chain, she said.
L.L. Bean, the privately held outdoors retailer based in Maine, said in a statement that it had ceased sourcing from textile mills in Xinjiang in 2020 and “completely removed ourselves out of the cotton production process” in early 2021.
“We have full confidence in our due diligence process to state that none of our products are made with Chinese cotton or use forced labor,” the company said.
The decisions by smaller, privately owned companies to leave China have been more straightforward than they were for bigger retailers, which have cultivated a lucrative consumer market in the country. For fast fashion companies like H&M and luxury brands like Burberry, which has also been the target of boycotts, the decision ultimately amounts to picking a side: China or the rest of the world.
“It’s very hard for a giant company,” said Michael Posner, who is the chair of the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit organization that has worked with companies like Apple to investigate worker conditions at suppliers’ factories.