The clothing major H&M has been warned by the Chinese government that it would not be able to earn a penny from the Chinese market if they refuse to purchase cotton that is produced in the Xinjiang region of the country.
There is a strong social backlash in China against H&M and other western brands over the concerns expressed by the brands over the alleged sue use of forced labour in the region for cotton production.
There have been accusations against China or forcing members of the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority to pick cotton in Xinjiang without paying them anything.
These allegations have been denied by China.
In recent days, there have been boycotts of Western brands that have previously been critical of Chinese policies in Xinjiang cotton production.
“I don’t think a company should politicise its economic behaviour,” said Xu Guixiang, a Xinjiang government spokesman, at a news conference on Monday. “Can H&M continue to make money in the Chinese market? Not anymore.”
Comparing the decision of some brands to stop purchasing Xinjiang cotton was compared by Xu to “lifting a stone to drop it on one’s own feet” and described the decisions as being “not reasonable”.
There has been no comment on the development from H&M.
The comments made by the Chinese spokesman have raised doubts about the future of the Swedish company in one of the largest consumer markets of the world. the comments also reflect support of the Chinese government to the recent boycott of products from H&M and other global retailers by Chinese consumers.
Nike and H&M were in the initial targets of the Chinese boycott and there were reports of H&M’s products being withdrawn from major e-commerce platforms and a few of its stores closed down across the country.
However since the initial backlash, the boycott has also affected companies like Burberry, Adidas and Converse.
The latest row over cotton from Xinjiang was spurred after western gover4enmwent including the United States increased pressure on China over its alleged gross violation of human rights in the Xinjiang region. There have been long standing accusations against China of engaging in serious human rights violations against Uyghurs in the region.
An investigation based on new research that depicted how China was constantly forcing hundreds of thousands of minorities including Uyghurs to become forced labourers and work in the cotton fields in the Xinjiang’ region was aired on BBC in December last year.
A number of Western countries – including the UK, US, Canada and European Union members, imposed sanctions against officials in China last week over the current situation in Xinjiang.
China has repeatedly denied the allegations of abuse and has hit back with retaliatory sanctions on European officials.
About one fifth of the world’s cotton is produced in China and Xinjiang is amongst the biggest cotton producing regions of the country. While in theory it is an autonomous region, in reality there are a lot of restrictions imposed which have been increased in recent years by the Chinese authorities.
(Adapted from BBC.com)