HONG KONG—At least five organizations say they won’t help companies audit their supply chains in China’s Xinjiang region, where human-rights activists say a police-state atmosphere and government controls make it too difficult to determine whether factories and farms are relying on forced labor.
China’s increasingly repressive tactics in the northwestern region, where large numbers of Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been rounded up in internment camps, have prompted campaigns from human-rights groups. Western brands from Gap Inc. to Kraft Heinz Co. have come under increasing pressure to stop sourcing from Xinjiang, a major producer of cotton and tomatoes.
In recent years, concerns have grown that in addition to the camps, which Beijing says are for vocational education, Uighurs are forcibly sent to work in factories in the region or elsewhere in China.
To respond to the concerns, some Western brands have turned to outside companies or nonprofits to vet their suppliers. Human-rights and labor activists, however, argue that auditors risk becoming enablers that help brands justify sourcing in Xinjiang, and that, given the lack of access and heavy policing in the region, they can’t realistically carry out proper examinations of factories. Beijing has denied the existence of forced Uighur labor.
The withdrawal of some of these auditing groups adds to the difficulty for brands to work with Xinjiang-based suppliers, bolstering a campaign by rights groups—and Washington—to cut Xinjiang off from global supply chains following Beijing’s repression of Turkic-speaking minorities in the region.