Swedish clothing company H&M has announced that it will be severing its relationship with a Chinese yarn producer Huafu Fashion Co. over concerns that it is using the forced labor of Uyghur and other minority populations.
The announcement was reported by South China Morning Post and shared to Twitter by the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth:
The Swedish clothing giant H&M cuts all ties with its Chinese supplier in Xinjiang due to alleged use of the forced labor of Uighur Muslims–a serious threat for any company operating from Xinjiang. H&M won't source any more cotton from Xinjiang. https://t.co/B0UdGQp1x6 pic.twitter.com/wdNd91S7Cl
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) September 16, 2020
H&M (short for Hennes & Mauritz AB) is a leading global fashion company with over 5,000 stores worldwide and more than 120,000 employees. According to Statista, it’s the fourth most valuable apparel brand in the world behind Nike, ZARA, and Adidas.
The Chinese government has come under fire in recent months for reports that it is transferring vast portions of its Uyghur and other ethnic minority populations throughout the country to work in factories. It has also received negative international attention for the use of “re-education” camps throughout the province of Xinjiang.
In March, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) listed H&M as one of 82 companies benefiting from China’s exploitation of the Uyghur population, tying the company with China’s use of forced labor by way of the company’s relationship with a Huafu (a dyed yarn producer) factory in Anhui.
H&M has since denied having a relationship with the factory in Anhui or its operations in Xinjiang. According to H&M, they do have an “indirect business relationship” with a Huafu Fashion mill in Shangyu in the Zhejiang province.
“While there are no indications for forced labour in the Shangyu mill,” H&M said, “we have decided to, until we get more clarity around allegations of forced labour, phase out our indirect business relationship with Huafu Fashion Co, regardless of unit and province, within the next 12 months.”
According ASPI’s report, over 80,000 Uyghurs were relocated throughout China to work in factories between the years 2017 and 2019, and over one million Uyghurs and other minority members have disappeared into “re-education” camps in Xinjiang.
“In factories far away from home,” reads the report, “they typically live in segregated dormitories, undergo organised Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours, are subject to constant surveillance, and are forbidden from participating in religious observances.”
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced on Monday that it will be withholding certain items from China from entering the U.S. market due to these human rights violations.
“By taking this action, DHS is combating illegal and inhumane forced labor, a type of modern slavery, used to make goods that the Chinese government then tries to import into the United States,” said Acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. “When China attempts to import these goods into our supply chains, it also disadvantages American workers and businesses.”
“President Trump and this Department have, and always will, put American workers and businesses first and protect American citizens from participating in these egregious human rights violations.”
The Chinese government has called the accusations of forced labor “a complete fabrication”.