The Chinese region of Xinjiang for the United States is a place where at least one million people belonging to the Uyghur ethnic group – a Muslim minority made up of 14.93 million people– They are held against their will in places that Beijing calls “vocational training centers”, where they are forced to work in factories. For its part, China defends that policies against this ethnic group in the extreme northwest of the country help prevent terrorism and protect national security.
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On the grounds of defending human rights and ensuring that no products made with forced labor in China enter the United States market, President Joe Biden passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act this December. Supermarket chain Walmart was accused this month of also vetoing Xinjiang products at its stores in China.
Consumers realized this when they saw the shortage of red dates and apples on the shelves of Walmart and Sam’s Club (which is also part of the Walmart empire), fruits that along with cotton, coal, sugar, tomatoes and polysilicon, are products star of Xinjiang production. Customers brought their discontent to the country’s social media to the point that the topic was the main trend on Weibo, with more than 170 million views and more than 10,000 posts. In the posts, users shared photos unsubscribing from these places. In addition, the account of the Communist Youth League of China urged the public to participate in a boycott against Walmart.
Other Western businesses, such as H&M and Nike, have also been the targets of consumer ire this year after declaring that they would not use more cotton from Xinjiang in their clothing. Swedish clothing items disappeared from Taobao and JD.com, the main e-commerce platforms in the Asian giant, and from the internet in general in China. 90% of the cotton the country produces comes from this region, according to the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
“Spreading rumors to boycott Xinjiang cotton and at the same time wanting to make money in China? Not in dreams! ”The Communist Youth League of China wrote on its Weibo account in response to H & M’s attitude. While the popular Chinese singer and actor Wang Yibo broke his contract with Nike.
There is also the opposite side, as is the official Carrefour Weibo account that took advantage of the controversy around its competitor Walmart and published several photos of apples, nuts and cotton socks and towels on its shelves along with yellow labels that read: “I come from Xinjiang.” In China, Carrefour’s more than 200 supermarkets are owned by Suning.com, one of the largest private appliance retailers in the Asian country.
Despite the fact that the new law to protect the human rights of the Uighur ethnic group has had the support of both Chambers, at the end of 2020, the New York Times reported that US giants such as Nike, Coca-Cola and Apple had spent millions to lobby against this measure. The reason for opposition from the companies was that this new regulation could wreak havoc on their production chains in China.
In 2020, a report produced by the Australian Institute of Strategic Policy (ASPI) revealed that at least 80,000 Uighurs have been transferred from Xinjiang province, some of them directly from detention centers, to factories across China that produce for dozens of multinational brands, including Apple and Nike.
Several human rights groups linked many multinationals with that region, such as Coca-Cola, which according to the accusations used Xinjiang sugar, or Nike, which made shoes with Uyghur workers in a factory in Qingdao. However, both Coca-Cola and Nike denied that they were related to any kind of forced labor in their supply chains.
Despite the fact that this new law has increased the tension between the two superpowers. There are experts who point out that this rule is not strict enough, since the raw materials collected in Xinjiang factories can continue to reach the United States if they are sent to other countries for the manufacture of third-party products, such as clothing.
Another criticism of the new regulation is that removing companies from Xinjiang, which produces more than a fifth of the world’s cotton, as well as 45% of the market for polysilicon – a key material for the construction of solar panels – could Fuel inflation at a time when US consumer prices are rising at their fastest rate in 39 years.