Sweden’s H&M and other foreign companies facing a backlash in China after raising concerns about forced labour in Xinjiang should look into the issue seriously and not politicise their economic behaviour, Chinese officials said on Monday.
H&M, Burberry, Nike and Adidas and other western brands have been hit by consumer boycotts in China since last week over comments about their sourcing of cotton in Xinjiang. The growing rift comes as the United States and other Western governments increase pressure on China over suspected human rights abuses in the western region.
Chinese social media users last week began circulating a 2020 statement by H&M announcing it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang.
H&M said at the time the decision was due to difficulties conducting credible due diligence in the region and after media and human rights’ groups reported the use of forced labour in Xinjiang – a charge that Beijing has repeatedly denied.
Xu Guixiang, a spokesman for the regional government of Xinjiang, told reporters that a company should not politicise its economic behaviour and said H&M won’t be able to make money anymore in the Chinese market because of its statement.
Elijan Anayat, another Xinjiang government spokesman, said during the briefing that Chinese people do not want the products of companies such as H&M and Nike that have boycotted Xinjiang’s cotton. He invited companies to take trips to the region’s cotton fields to see for themselves what is happening.
Washington on Friday condemned what it called a “state-led” social media campaign in China against U.S. and other international companies for committing not to use cotton from Xinjiang.
The wave of consumer boycotts in China has coincided with a coordinated set of sanctions imposed by Britain, Canada, the European Union and the United States last week over what they say are human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang. The U.S. government has publicly accused Beijing of genocide against the Uighur Muslim ethnic minorities in the region.
Xu repeatedly rejected accusations of genocide and human rights abuses in the region and accused the Western powers of engaging in political manipulation to destabilise China with the sanctions.
The United States in January announced an import ban on all cotton and tomato products from the area due to allegations of forced labour from detained Uighur Muslims.
Western governments and rights groups have previously accused authorities in the far-western region of detaining and torturing Uighurs in camps, where some former inmates have said they were subject to ideological indoctrination.
China has repeatedly denied all such charges and say the camps are for vocational training and combating religious extremism.