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The Chinese Market or Your Morals? Western Brands Forced to Choose Amid Slave Labor Scandal

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Western apparel companies H&M, Nike and Adidas are receiving a stream of invective from the Chinese Community Party for making remarks against the forced internment of ethnic minorities in the nation’s Xinjiang province.

The foreign companies came face to face with the consequences of anchoring their distribution and manufacturing networks so intently in the cotton-rich region.

Late last month, Chinese authorities effectively eliminated H&M from the nation’s leading smartphone applications after company officials spoke out against repressive conditions forcing ethnic minorities to interned servitude, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Despite H&M’s 502 stores in China, GPS map applications indicated that the clothing company no longer existed.

On the nation’s social media application Weibo, Chinese state media officials, as well as everyday Chinese citizens, denounced the companies, spreading online statements from party figures across the nation’s online forums.

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The aggressive campaign came after H&M officially announced last year that it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang.

“We strictly prohibit any type of forced labour in our supply chain, regardless of the country or region,” the statement read.

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Chinese consumers also directed anger toward Nike and Adidas, both of which spoke out in similar fashion in recent months.

The Communist Party’s state newspaper, the Global Times, reported that more than 30 Chinese celebrities have since cut ties with Nike, Adidas and H&M.

And the Chinese state media estimated that the three retailers will lose upwards of 1.4 billion Chinese consumers due to their decision to no longer source cotton from a region wherein reported crimes against humanity are taking place.

Last week, H&M released a new statement, pleading with Chinese consumers to find common ground and “find a way forward.”

“China is a very important market to us and our long-term commitment to the country remains strong,” the statement read.

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While Chinese authorities singled out H&M, Nike and Adidas, their efforts also targeted Tommy Hilfiger, Converse and Calvin Klein, which also lost brand ambassadors to the nation, according to The New York Times.

Western governments have now condemned the one-party state for myriad reasons over the past year. Here, the conversation is attaining a new dimension: Western companies must either come to terms with the Communist Party’s domestic policy initiatives, however insidious they may be, or alter their manufacturing networks in terms of location.

A 2020 Congressional-Executive Commission on China report noted that at least 1.8 million ethnic minorities have been arbitrarily detained in the region.

The region is plagued by severe human rights abuses, including torture, political indoctrination, forced renunciation of faith and coerced labor. Flourishing with cotton, the Xinjiang region is an apt center for textile and apparel manufacturing, in addition to production.

“Global supply chains are increasingly at risk of being tainted with goods and products made with forced labor from the XUAR,” the report added.

“Intrusive surveillance, restrictions on movement, and the inability to obtain reliable information from workers at risk of detention and other reprisals also makes it increasingly impossible to conduct due diligence.”

According to The Associated Press, Beijing claims that their initiatives are designed to spur economic growth in the region, as well as extinguish national security threats.

“The so-called existence of forced labor in the Xinjiang region is totally fictitious,” Commerce Ministry spokesperson Gao Feng said. The official urged foreign companies to “correct wrong practices.”

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