Traces of banned Chinese cotton have been found in 19% of samples of clothing and other textile products on sale internationally, according to a new study.

Researchers from testing firm Stratum Reservoir and lab Applied DNA Sciences analysed the garments for traces of cotton from Xinjiang, a region in the far west of China.

It followed moves internationally to ban imports of products from Xinjiang where it is reported that Uyghur Muslims are being subjected to forced labour – an allegation that China denies.

The US introduced the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) in 2021 to ban imports of cotton from Xinjiang. In March this year, the European Commission unveiled a proposed ban on products made under forced labour within the EU market which is expected to include Xinjiang. The UK government has so far resisted pressure to take action.

According to Reuters, scientists used isotopic testing which can link cotton to specific geographic areas by analysing the concentration of stable elements such as carbon and hydrogen present in both the crop and the environment in which it has been grown.

Researchers found traces of Xinjiang cotton in 19% of 822 products on sale in the US and globally between February 2023 and March 2024. Of the items that tested positive, 57% had labels that claimed the origin as the US.