H&M's Xinjiang cotton ban sparks China backlash

Katie Ramirez
March 26, 2021

H&M had previously said in a statement it was "deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor" and that it did not source products from Xinjiang.

H&M China in a statement on Wednesday night said it "does not represent any political position" and remains committed to long-term investment in China.

Beijing denies mistreating them, insisting it is trying to promote economic development and stamp out radicalism.

The move is a retaliation to a coordinated set of sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union, Britain and Canada against Beijing over what the countries call human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

"We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR)", Nike said in the statement.

The Western move to box in China over Xinjiang has been orchestrated by US President Joe Biden, who has sought consensus against the perceived aggressions of Beijing.

More foreign retail brands were attacked by users on Chinese social media on Thursday in response to worldwide concerns over the mistreatment of Uyghur muslims in China's Xinjiang region.

The search results of the taobao.com show that all "H&M" and "HM" searches have returned no results. Physical store locations were blocked from searches on Baidu and Gaode maps, the equivalent of Google and Apple maps.

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On Wednesday, the youth league of the Communist Party and the state-run China Central Television criticized H&M online, saying the firm's action is based on rumors.

China has sanctioned organisations and individuals in the United Kingdom over "lies and disinformation" about Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, days after Britain imposed sanctions for what it called human rights abuses in the western Chinese region.

Ryohin Keikaku recently conducted due diligence for Xinjiang factories, with which it has an indirect relationship via its supply chain, and also commissioned an independent audit group to make onsite audits, but found no significant issues, the company told Reuters on Thursday.

Chinese ministries of commerce and foreign affairs urged multinational companies to stop politicizing commercial issues, and slammed anti-China organizations for smearing Xinjiang's cotton, saying their aim is to harm Xinjiang's safety and stability.

H&M shares fell as much as 4.4 per cent in Stockholm.

At a daily media briefing at the Chinese foreign ministry, spokeswoman Hua Chunying, when asked about H&M, held up a photograph of Black Americans picking cotton.

Inditex, Nike, Burberry and Adidas weren't immediately available to comment.

Wang Yibo, a popular actor, announced he would cease all cooperation with Nike as he strongly opposes any comments and behavior that brings shame on China. M&S said in a statement at the time that 100 per cent of the cotton for M&S clothing is "sustainably sourced and M&S is already one of the few retailers that does not work with any supplier in or source from Xinjiang".

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