Swedish powerhouse fashion brand H&M has ended its “indirect” relationship with Chinese cotton supplier Huafu Fashion Co., LTD.
H&M’s decision was prompted by a recent report from human rights advocates alleging that Huafu is using forced Uyghur labor from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China.
The report was delivered to U.K. customs authorities in 2019, containing a plethora of “overwhelming and credible evidence” indicating the existence of a “forced labor regime in Xinjiang.”
H&M denied any involvement with forced labor scheme
In a statement, H&M said it was “deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor and discrimination of ethno religious minorities” from the XUAR region.
H&M has denied any direct association with the forced labor scheme, saying they do “not work with any garment manufacturing factories located in XUAR” nor do they “source products from the region”.
The company challenged a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) claiming H&M had a direct relationship with a Huafu cotton mill located in Anhui province which reportedly uses labor from XUAR.
That said, H&M has acknowledged an “indirect” business relationship with another Huafu mill located in Shangyu, Zhejiang province which produces a special yarn for the company’s suppliers.
In a cautionary move, H&M announced plans to “phase out our indirect business relationship with Huafu Fashion Co, regardless of unit and province, within the next 12 months.”
Xinjiang is reportedly a hotspot of human rights abuses
It has been reported that more than a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities have been swept up by the Chinese government and forced into re-education camps located in the far-west region of Xinjiang.
A handful of experts have decried the situation, claiming it is an example of government-led cultural genocide. Reports from inside the camps indicate that detainees are subjected to forced religious conversions, political indoctrination and in some cases even torture.
Following an announcement from Beijing that the detainees have been successfully ‘re-educated,’ new reports have emerged that Uyghurs have been sent to Chinese factories under forced labor schemes.
ASPI reports that nearly 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred to factories outside of Xinjiang as part of the government’s ‘Xinjiang Aid’ program.
The report goes on to say, “Most strikingly, local governments and private brokers are paid a price per head by the Xinjiang provincial government to organize the labour assignments.”
China’s reported treatment of ethno religious minorities has drawn criticism from western watchdog groups and governments, including the United States who has had a deteriorating relationship with Beijing following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether any direct actions will be taken by Washington or EU leaders on the matter remains to be seen. For major apparel brands such as H&M, the writing is on the wall.
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