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A global fashion crisis over cotton

Several Chinese e-commerce platforms have removed international fashion labels from websites for raising concerns over 'forced labour' issues

Models present creations during the Burberry show at London Fashion Week last year. Burberry became the first luxury brand last week to lose a Chinese brand ambassador because of the Chinese backlash to Western accusations of abuses in Xinjiang. (REUTERS)

China has stepped up pressure on foreign shoe and clothing brands to reject reports of abuses in Xinjiang, telling companies that are targeted by Beijing for boycotts to look more closely and pointing to a statement by one that it found no forced labour.

H&M, Nike, Adidas and other brands are caught in a spiraling conflict over Xinjiang after Western governments imposed sanctions on Chinese officials accused of abuses, according to a report by AP. State media called for a boycott of H&M for saying it would no longer use cotton from Xinjiang and are criticising other brands for expressing concern about reports of forced labour.

“When the stick of sanctions is brandished on Xinjiang, it will also hit your own head,” a spokesman for the Xinjiang regional government, Xu Guixiang, said at a news conference in Beijing.

More than one million members of the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been confined to camps in Xinjiang in China's northwest, according to foreign governments and researchers. Authorities there are accused of imposing forced labour and coercive birth control measures.

The Chinese government rejects complaints of abuses and says the camps are for job training to support economic development and combat Islamic radicalism. H&M should “look into this matter seriously,” Xu said.

“Where did you get this evidence? That would be some fake scholars or distorted reports or so-called testimonies,” Xu said. “Many of these people are ill-intentioned. They just want to destabilise Xinjiang.” The attacks began when the ruling party's Youth League publicised H&M's statement last Wednesday. State TV called for a boycott of the Swedish retailer. Official media have criticized Nike, Adidas, Uniqlo and Burberry for expressing concern about reports of forced labour in Xinjiang.

That came after US, the 27-nation European Union, Britain and Canada on March 22 announced travel and financial sanctions on four Chinese officials accused of abuses. Beijing has retaliated by announcing similar penalties against European and British officials, legislators and researchers.

H&M goods have disappeared from major Chinese e-commerce platforms but on Monday the other brands still were available. The smartphone apps for H&M, Adidas and Nike were missing Monday from major Chinese app stores.

The Communist Party often pressures foreign clothing, travel and other brands over actions by their governments or to compel them to adopt its positions on Taiwan, Tibet and other sensitive issues. Most comply because China is one of the biggest, fastest-growing markets for global fashion, electronics and other consumer brands, says the AP report.

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, reports Reuters.

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