China has increased pressure on international shoe and clothing brands to deny allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang, asking companies targeted for boycotts to investigate further and citing one company’s assertion that it found no forced labor.
H&M, Nike, Adidas, and other companies are embroiled in a dispute over Xinjiang, following the imposition of restrictions on officials suspected of human rights violations by Western governments. State media also called for a boycott of H&M after the company announced it would no longer use cotton from Xinjiang, as well as other brands that have expressed concern over allegations of forced labor.
At a news conference in Beijing, Xu Guixiang, a spokesman for the Xinjiang regional government, said, “If the stick of sanctions is brandished on Xinjiang, it will also strike your own head.”
According to foreign governments and scholars, over one million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been confined to camps in Xinjiang, China’s northwestern region.
Authorities in the country have been accused of promoting child labour and coercive birth control.
The Chinese government dismisses reports of violence, arguing that the camps are used for work training in order to facilitate economic growth and fight Islamic radicalism.
Mr Xu suggested that H&M “look into this matter seriously.”
“Can you tell me where you got this evidence?
Mr Xu explained, “It would be some fake academics, skewed studies, or so-called testimonies.”
“Many of these individuals have sinister intentions.
“All they want to do is destabilize Xinjiang.”
Separately, a foreign ministry spokesman cautioned Japan against joining Western governments in placing sanctions on Xinjiang, which has remained silent on the issue.
In response to a query at a ministry briefing, Zhao Lijian said, “We hope Japan will be careful with its words and actions and not join the United States in making unwarranted attacks on China only because it is a US ally.”
“It is detrimental to Japan’s interests.”
The attacks started last Wednesday, when the ruling party’s Youth League made H&M’s statement official.
A boycott of the Swedish retailer has been called for by state television.
Nike, Adidas, Uniqlo, and Burberry have been chastised by the Chinese government for expressing concern about allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang.
This came after the United States, the European Union’s 27 member states, the United Kingdom, and Canada declared travel and financial sanctions against four Chinese officials accused of human rights violations on March 22.
Beijing has retaliated by announcing similar measures against officials, lawmakers, and scholars in Europe and the United Kingdom.
H&M products have vanished from major Chinese e-commerce websites, but other brands were still available on Monday.
H&M, Adidas, and Nike mobile apps were absent from major Chinese app stores on Monday.
The Communist Party often exerts pressure on international clothing, travel, and other brands in order to force them to follow Communist Party policies on Taiwan, Tibet, and other sensitive issues.
Since China is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing markets for apparel, electronics, and other consumer goods, most people comply.
Elijan Anayat, another spokesman at the event with Mr. Xu, cited a statement by Skechers USA, Inc., which said it couldn’t find facts to back up a claim by an Australian think tank that one of its Chinese suppliers was using forced labor.
According to Skechers, the supplier, Dong Guan Lu Zhou Shoes, acknowledged that some of its employees are Uyghurs but stated that they are free to leave.
It said it has audited the supplier several times since 2017 and has “no reason to suspect Lu Zhou is using any forced labor.”
“I believe they will be well received by Chinese consumers, and they will gain greater (market) share,” said Elijan Anayat.
The Better Cotton Initiative, an industry group that promotes labor and environmental standards, agreed in March to stop licensing cotton from Xinjiang because it was difficult to track how it was grown, according to H&M’s statement.
MUJI, a Japanese retailer, and FILA, a South Korean-owned athletic shoe company, have said that they will continue to buy cotton from Xinjiang. Last week, FILA China announced that it had begun the process of withdrawing from the BCI.