Swedish multinational clothing-retail company H&M has been warned by Chinese officials it will not earn money in the country if it refuses to buy cotton from the Xinjiang region due to forced labour concerns.
H&M and other western multinational brands are facing a backlash from Chinese consumers after they expressed concern about the alleged use of the Muslim Uyghur minority as forced labour to pick cotton in Xinjiang.
China has denied the accusations and, in recent days, critical brands have faced boycotts from retailers and consumers in China.
“I don’t think a company should politicise its economic behaviour,” said Xu Guixiang, a Xinjiang government spokesman, at a news conference on Monday. “Can H&M continue to make money in the Chinese market? Not anymore.”
Mr. Xu said the decision by some brands to stop buying Xinjiang cotton was “not reasonable”, comparing it to “lifting a stone to drop it on one’s own feet”.
H&M has not yet responded to a request for comment from the BBC.
The Chinese spokesman’s remarks cast doubt on the Swedish company’s future in one of the world’s largest markets.
They also indicate Chinese government support for the recent Chinese consumer boycott of products from H&M and other global retailers.
China’s boycott initially targeted Nike and H&M, with reports of the latter’s products withdrawn from major e-commerce platforms and some of its stores being shuttered across the country.
But the boycott has widened to include Burberry, Adidas and Converse, among others.
The cotton row erupted after the US and other western governments ramped up pressure on China over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The United Nations and human rights groups have accused China of committing serious human rights violations against Uyghurs in the region.
In December the BBC published an investigation based on new research showing China was forcing hundreds of thousands of minorities including Uyghurs into manual labour in Xinjiang’s cotton fields.
Last week several western countries – including the UK, US, Canada and European Union members – imposed sanctions on officials in China over the situation in Xinjiang.
China has repeatedly denied the allegations of abuse and has hit back with retaliatory sanctions on European, US and Canadian officials. (Source: BBC)