China is cracking down on Western retailers for expressing concern over reports that slave labor is being used to gather cotton from the country’s Xinjiang region.
Clothing brands and retailers such as H&M and Nike are claiming that they are being targeted by the Chinese government online. Beijing, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, has wiped shop locations from online maps and apps and deplatformed the retailers’ web stores, according to BBC.
The clothing industry blackout in China began on Wednesday with the Swedish retailer H&M. Chinese state-run media outlets and government agents online resurfaced a comment made by the retailer last year expressing concern over the labor used to produce Xinjiang-sourced cotton. The statement has since been removed from H&M’s website.
The retailer said that it was “deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor and discrimination of ethno-religious minorities” in Xinjiang and had stopped sourcing cotton from the region, according to The New York Times.
Nike posted its own statement voicing concern about the reports of forced labor inside Xinjiang. The clothing and sportswear brand said it does not source products from Xinjiang and is auditing its supply line to ensure that forced labor is not used in its supply chain.
Chinese state media and other Communist organizations have called for boycotts of brands that have signed on to the Better Cotton Initiative, which advocates to make cotton production “better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future.” Members of the initiative include Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Burberry, Puma, and Tommy Hilfiger, according to BBC.
The Chinese government is running so-called reeducation camps in Xinjiang thought to hold at least one million Uyghurs from the region. The Uyghurs are an ethnic minority in China that identifies culturally more with central Asia than the Han Chinese which dominate China.
The facilities housing the Uyghurs are, in reality, concentration camps where Uyghurs are manipulated, tortured, and sterilized. On Jan. 19, then President Donald Trump designated China a human rights abuser, and then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Beijing was attempting “genocide” against the Xinjiang Uyghurs and other minorities in the region.
Western governments have grown colder toward China in recent months, following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan and spread largely due to the Chinese government’s refusal to share key information about the disease until it was too late. On Monday, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union, announced joint sanctions against Chinese officials over the treatment of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs.
“Amid growing international condemnation, the [People’s Republic of China] continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “The United States reiterates its calls on the PRC to bring an end to the repression of Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, including by releasing all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities.”