16:00 GMT16 April 2021
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    The US, EU, Britain and Canada have accused China of human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minority; Beijing denies the allegations, which have led to a spate of tit-for-tat sanctions.

    Clevr Blends, a startup that makes instant oat-milk lattes, touting a holistic approach to wellness and received financial backing last year from Meghan Markle, imported tonnes of its key ingredient from a supplier based in China's Xinjiang province, reported The Mail on Sunday.

    ​Clevr received its first batch of five deliveries of oat milk powder from its alleged supplier Xinjiang Haiyan on 6 October, with a more recent delivery of 8.8 tonnes arriving on 28 February, according to the US import records provided by data firms Panjiva and Import Genius and cited by the outlet.

    The Western powers have been ramping up sanctions against China of late over alleged violations of the human rights of the Uyghur Muslim minority in the region.

    Holistic Coffee Startup in the Crosshairs

    The Duchess of Sussex was believed to have been motivated by her interest in wellness and supporting female-founded companies (as part of her gender equality cause) when she announced last year she was investing in the Clevr Blends coffee startup, led by co-founder and CEO Hannah Mendoza.

    Announcing what was set to be her first personal investment to be made public, Meghan Markle said in a statement to Fortune in December 2020:

    “This investment is in support of a passionate female entrepreneur who prioritises building community alongside her business… I’m proud to invest in Hannah’s commitment to sourcing ethical ingredients and creating a product that I personally love and [that] has a holistic approach to wellness. I believe in her, and I believe in her company.”

    ​In a low-key social media marketing move, Clevr gift baskets were shared with celebrity talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Spanx founder Sara Blakely, who subsequently informed their own followers the lattes were from Meghan Markle.

    ​However, now it has been reported that the company that started as a pop-up coffee bar coursing the California coast in 2017 and now taking such pride in its ethically sourced ingredients received almost 19 tonnes of oat milk powder from a former supplier based in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

    There is no evidence to suggest that Xinjiang Haiyan International Trade has used forced labour, says the outlet.

    The company’s website asserts that its products come 'from certified factories', without offering any details of the location of over 300 factories and distributors it collaborates with, while touting a 'traceability' system.

    The latter supposedly allows clients to discover where raw materials for the products are sourced.
    Xinjiang Haiyan International Trade’s sales director Catherine Zhang is cited as having told an undercover reporter for the publication that it could supply 344 tonnes of oat milk powder a month and has clients in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

    Both shipping records for Clevr Blends and an invoice for an order of oat milk powder are believed to suggest the company is based in Urumqi.

    Aerial view of Urumqi, Xinjiang Province, PR China
    Aerial view of Urumqi, Xinjiang Province, PR China

    The undercover reporter was purportedly told by a representative of Xinjiang Haiyan that the oats are farmed and turned into milk powder in Inner Mongolia, a different Chinese province, and processed into milk powder in the central Chinese city of Xi'an.

    Furthermore, Clevr Blends ostensibly ceased to collaborate with its former supplier several months ago.
    The trendy coffee company is believed to be currently working with a US supplier, who uses Canadian oats.
    Meghan Markle, according to the outlet, had not been made aware of Clevr Blends’ previous relationship with Xinjiang Haiyan.

    Uighur Controversy

    Human rights groups in the West have been pushing allegations that the abuses include widespread use of forced labour and the detention of a million Uighur Muslims in re-education camps - something Beijing firmly denies.

    Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region
    © AFP 2021 / GOH CHAI HIN
    Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region

    Amid the Uyghur controversy, which has been gaining ever more traction in March, Britain, the European Union, Canada and the United States imposed a set of sanctions against Chinese officials over alleged human rights violations and involvement in the incarceration of the Uyghurs, a minority group mostly living in in Xinjiang.

    Beijing, which strongly denies the accusations, maintains that ‘vocational centres’ in the region were set up to combat religious extremism.

    China retaliated to the sanctions, as the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that certain American and Canadian individuals will be banned from travelling to China, including the Hong Kong region, and prohibited from doing business with country’s citizens and institutions. Earlier, similar measures were reciprocally taken by China against certain EU and UK individuals and entities.

    Fashion brands such as H&M, Burberry and Marks & Spencer, which entered the fray and refused to source cotton from Xinjiang, despite no evidence available to support the claims, have faced a backlash since.

    Nike, Adidas, H&M and Burberry have also recently fallen victim to China-wide consumer boycotts over the brands making statements regarding cotton farming in the Xinjiang region.


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    Uyghurs, Uyghurs, Uighurs, uighur, China, Xinjiang, Meghan Markle
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