H&M faces backlash in China for refusing to purchase cotton from Xinjiang

In a statement last year, the world's second-biggest clothing retailer said it did not source cotton from Xinjiang.

Beijing: Swedish multinational clothing retailer H&M is facing a backlash within China for refusing to purchase cotton producing in Xinjiang, where the Communist government is carrying out atrocities on Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities; termed as “genocide” by several countries.

Mainland Chinese media reported that H&M products were removed from all major Chinese e-commerce platforms, including JD, Taobao and Pinduoduo, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Searches for H&M products on these platforms yielded no results on Wednesday. In a statement last year, the world’s second-biggest clothing retailer said it did not source cotton from Xinjiang.

“We do not work with any garment manufacturing factories located in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, and we do not source products from this region,” the company said.

While China is H&M’s fourth-largest market, the company has 520 stores in the country, second only to the United States with 593 stores, reported SCMP.

According to a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, China produces 22 per cent of the world’s cotton, out of which 84 per cent comes from the Xinjiang region.

The backlash against H&M comes a day after a fiery exchange of sanctions between China, the US, the European Union (EU), Canada and the United Kingdom over the treatment of ethnic minorities from Xinjiang.

“Defaming and boycotting Xinjiang’s cotton while hoping to make money off China? Don’t even dream about it!” said the Communist Youth League on the Chinese social platform Weibo.

The youth league on Wednesday repurposed popular memes on foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi’s statements in the Alaska meeting between the US and Chinese officials last week.

“H&M take off your biased lenses and immediately stop spreading fake news. Xinjiang cotton doesn’t buy it,” they said. In one popular Weibo post, an internet user said he resigned after reading the company’s statement, according to SCMP. “As a long-time employee, I am taking the initiative of resigning, bye bye H&M,” read the post, which was ‘liked’ more than 200,000 times.

Moreover, some Chinese celebrities were also quick to cut ties with H&M with actor Huang Xuan said on Wednesday that he had ended all business dealings with the Swedish clothing company, SCMP reported.

“Huang Xuan and his team resolutely oppose any form of behaviour that defames and maligns China and human rights!” he said.

Chinese K-pop star Victoria Song also said on Wednesday that she was not associated in any way with H&M.

“The national interest is more important than anything, [Victoria Song] boycotts any behaviour that harms the reputation of China. She resolutely opposes these actions that use commercial means as a way to malign and humiliate the country and its people,” she said.

China has been rebuked globally for cracking down on Uyghur Muslims by sending them to mass detention camps, interfering in their religious activities and sending members of the community to undergo some form of forcible re-education or indoctrination.

Beijing, on the other hand, has vehemently denied that it is engaged in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang while reports from journalists, NGOs and former detainees have surfaced, highlighting the Chinese Communist Party’s brutal crackdown on the ethnic community, according to a report.

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the crackdown on Uyghurs as ‘genocide’. Beijing has been restricting information flow from the area to scrub evidence, leading countries to make determinations as best as they can.

Since 2017, a massive political ‘reeducation’ campaign against Uyghurs and other groups have been carried out by the government in Xinjiang, with scholars estimating over a million people detained in camps, some transferred to prison and others pressured to work in factories, Washington Post reported.

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