Swedish clothing giant Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M) on Tuesday said that it was ending its relationship with a Chinese yarn producer over accusations of “forced labor” involving ethnic and religious minorities from China’s Xinjiang region.
The fashion retailer specified that it did not work with any garment factories in the region and that it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang, which is China’s largest cotton-growing area.
A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank, published in March, pointed to H&M as one of the beneficiaries of a forced labor transfer program through their relationship with the dyed yarn producer Huafu Fashion Co’s (華孚時尚) factory in Anhui Province.
However, H&M said in a statement that it had never had a relationship with the factory in Anhui, nor Huafu’s operations in Xinjiang.
H&M did concede that it has an “indirect business relationship with one mill” in Shangyu in Zhejiang Province, belonging to Huafu.
“While there are no indications for forced labor in the Shangyu mill, we have decided to, until we get more clarity around allegations of forced labor, phase out our indirect business relationship with Huafu Fashion Co, regardless of unit and province, within the next 12 months,” H&M said.
The company also said that it had conducted “an inquiry at all the garment manufacturing factories we work with in China aiming to ensure that they are not employing workers ... through what is reported on as labor transfer programs or employment schemes where forced labor is an increased risk.”
International pressure is building on the Chinese Communist Party over its actions in the resource-rich Xinjiang region, and the EU on Monday pressed China to let its independent observers into Xinjiang, binding human rights to future trade and investment deals with Beijing.
Rights groups say that more than 1 million Uighurs languish in political re-education camps, which Beijing describes as vocational training centers where education is given to lift the population out of poverty and to chisel away at Islamic radicalism.
China says that criticism of its handling of Xinjiang is politically motivated, and based on lies about what happens in the vast facilities it has built.
US Customs and Border Protection on Monday said it would bar a raft of Chinese products from Xinjiang over fears that they were made using forced labor.
China on Tuesday slammed the US move as “bullying” and dismissed accusations of forced labor as “a complete fabrication.”
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