Multinational companies face backlash for discontinuing use of Xinjiang cotton


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jing Chen, Contributing Writer

In January, the Trump Administration sanctioned Xinjiang cotton, and any other products that originated from there due to human rights violations against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. In particular, the administration raised concerns over forced human labor in the cotton production process. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has banned products that are made in whole or part with Xinjiang cotton, regardless of where the product is derived from. Moreover, global brands, clothing manufacturers, and apparel retailers such as H&M, Nike, and Patagonia are required to demonstrate that their supply chains are free from Xinjiang cotton. 

Xinjiang is the largest provincial level autonomous region in China. It is the world’s largest cotton producer and manufacturer in the world, contributing to 21% of the global cotton transaction, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank. China’s cotton production accounts for 90% of handkerchiefs and 80% of men’s underwear globally.

On Chinese social media, H&M has issued a statement indicating that the company wants to be a “responsible buyer, in China and elsewhere” and is “actively working on next steps with regards to material sourcing.” According to the Washington Post, Nike and Ikea both said that their suppliers have discontinued the usage of Xinjiang cotton. Burberry, New Balance, and other members of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) have likewise expressed concern. 

In response to H&M statement, Xu Guixianga spokesman for the Xinjiang provincial governmentstated “I don’t think a company should politicize its economic behavior.” Xu further asserts that companies like H&M are no longer able to make money in the Chinese market, and that H&M was basically “lifting a stone to drop it on one’s own feet.” 

There is a surge of consumer boycotts among Chinese citizens. Many have stopped purchasing products from H&M, Nike, and Adidas, leading to shut down of these stores in malls and metropolitan centers. E-commerce platforms like Alibaba and JD have also removed all H&M products following the backlash. Moreover, many Chinese celebrities have terminated their contract with these companies. According to CNN, global brands are incurring huge economic losses from the boycott. For instance Nike shares fell by more than 3% as a result, Adidas’ sank more than 6%, and Burberry’s tumbled more than 4%.