Clothing retailer H&M canceled for exposing forced labor in China

Recently, I wrote about the fact that many of the trendy goods consumed in the West are made by forced Uyghur labor. Those who speak out pay a hefty price, as Swedish clothing retailer H&M can attest.

Two weeks ago, H&M was canceled in China after the Communist Youth League denounced the company’s comments about forced labor in Xinjiang on Weibo, China’s largest social media platform. The comments themselves were from last year (March 2020). Vitriol online is probably in response to punishments recently imposed by the European Union, United States, United Kingdom and Canada on Chinese officials for human rights violations. Earlier in March (2021), Newslines Institute for Strategy and Policy, an independent international organization, released a report showing that the Chinese government is committing genocide against the Uyghurs as defined in 1948. Genocide Convention.

Other measures were applied quickly. Several Chinese e-commerce sites have blocked users from accessing H & M’s online store, and Weibo users have called for a boycott of the physical store. Celebrities such as Song Quian and Huang Xuan have pulled out of sponsorship deals with H&M. It will hurt because H&M has more than 400 stores in China, of which China accounts for 5% of H&M turnover.

The editor of the Chinese state newspaper, World time, warned that Western companies should be “very careful” and not “suppress Chinese Xinjiang.”

H&M is committed to supplying responsibly sourced products and prohibits the use of forced labor in all countries in its supply chain. Stores display a sign indicating their commitment to responsible purchasing practices.

In response to the Chinese Youth League’s online attacks and its subsequent ban from the Chinese e-commerce site, H&M attempted to repair the damage by declaring that its policies “did not represent any political position” and that H&M is “committed to investing and developing in China for the long term”. That said, the due diligence statement bed :

The H&M group is deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and the media that include accusations of forced labor and discrimination against ethnoreligious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). We strictly prohibit any type of forced labor in our supply chain, regardless of country or region. If we discover and verify a case of forced labor at a supplier we work with, we will take immediate action and, as an ultimate consequence, seek to terminate the business relationship. All our direct suppliers sign our Sustainable Development Commitment which clearly sets out our expectations in terms of forced labor and discrimination based on religion or ethnicity, for their own operations as well as their supply chains …

XUAR is China’s largest cotton area, and so far our suppliers have sourced cotton from farms connected to the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) in the region. As it has become increasingly difficult to exercise credible due diligence in the region, the BCI has decided to suspend the licensing of BCI cotton to XUAR. This means that the cotton for our production will no longer come from there. In addition, in collaboration with industry and supply chain partners, we will continue our work to strengthen cotton traceability.

H&M is not the only group of companies to have taken action and faced attacks. He is a member of the United Kingdom Ethical Trade Initiative, whose business partners agree to their Basic Code of Labor Practices. He is also a member of the Better cotton initiative, which works for a sustainable and ethical cotton production. The Better Cotton Initiative has suspended approval for cotton from Xinjiang. In response, a Chinese propagandist created an image titled “Blood Cotton Initiative” with images of slaves working in cotton fields as well as other images critical of Western media. The image – not linked here as the image is in bad taste – has gone viral in China.

A few days later, H&M amended an online map of China after the Communist Youth League complained that the map incorrectly represented the Sino-Indian border and several disputed territories in the South China Sea. The report did not specify the disputed areas, but other companies have been polled by Chinese officials for leave Taiwan maps of china. China claims to own Taiwan, which considers itself an independent country.

Pressure did not let go. On April 7, the BBC reported that Chinese censors have now started censoring Western clothing brands on television by scrambling logos. Unfortunately for production companies who have to make these last minute changes, Chinese youth are crazy about Western clothing brands.

If it’s a PR campaign, it doesn’t work. The CCP continues to lose weight globally. As several business analysts have pointed out, these tactics will only hurt the Chinese people. Companies like H&M, where the Chinese market represents only 5% of their annual turnover, can afford to move their supply lines out of China. But the Chinese manufacturing sector can less afford to lose Western companies.

Update of 04/13/21:

Better Cotton Initiative suppressed its statement on Xinjiang. China journalist and observer Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian noted that BCI was pressured to delete his declaration:

At the end of March, the Chinese state-affiliated Global Times published a series of articles criticizing BCI for ceasing operations in Xinjiang.

On March 26, BCI’s Shanghai branch said it had found no evidence of forced labor in the Xinjiang cotton industry. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, “Xinjiang statement removed from cotton watchdog website” To Axes

When reaching out to BCI, the organization’s spokesperson said she would not make a statement at this time. “When asked in a follow-up email whether BCI now believes there is no forced labor in the Xinjiang cotton industry and whether BCI will resume operations there, Woodruff did not respond. .

The Chinese Communist Party has become increasingly aggressive in countering claims that Uyghurs are detained and forced to live and work in abject conditions. We will see if other companies and organizations maintain their stance on forced labor or give in to the pressure.


You can also read:

In China, Uyghur forced labor produces many fashionable products. Industries such as fashion and solar panels rely heavily on supplies from detention centers and concentration camps in China.

and

How doing business in China becomes ethically expensive in Hong Kong dramatically increases the cost of rights and freedoms rhetoric. Many defenders bow out.


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Anne G. Cash

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