A popular clothing brand, H&M has faced criticism from China for a statement it had put a year ago on its website where it said that it would not use cotton sourced from the Xinjiang region over concerns of forced labor.
Earlier this week, western nations including the U.S., the U.K., the E.U. and Canada jointly applied sanctions on four Chinese individuals and entities for their allegedly human rights abuses in the Xinjiang. China has vehemently defended its position and said that it was “reeducating” them to speak Chinese and lift them from poverty. However, International organizations including Amnesty International and the United Nations have documented and reported human rights abuse in the region.
The H&M group quietly took down its statement after the Communist Party Youth League called it “wishful thinking” if the company wanted to make money in China while boycotting Xinjiang cotton. The group also saw zero results for searches of its products on Taobao, the online retail platform owned by the Alibaba group.
The clothing retailer has the second largest number of stores, 505, in China and gained $1.2 billion in sales in 2019, so it has felt the retaliatory pressure from the Chinese. Nike and Inditex have quietly taking down statements and Japanese brand Muji had indicated that it would continue to source cotton from Xinjiang.
Anta Sports said that it would leave the BCI as it intended to source cotton from the province. The BCI or the Better Cotton Initiative is a Switzerland-based industry group. Last year, it said that it could not verify if Xinjiang cotton was abuse-free.
China’s retaliatory measures against those who do not support its ideology has made some retailers, especially those in the clothing market, comply but these retailers may also face sanctions in their native countries in the future for giving in to China. The U.S. has banned both cotton and tomatoes from the Xinjiang region.