02:02 GMT20 June 2021
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    The United States banned cotton from Xinjiang under accusations of forced labor against Uyghurs and other predominantly Turkic minorities in northwest China. Beijing claims it has not forced Uyghur Muslims to pick cotton, and in response, Chinese state-owned media outlets called for a boycott of US clothing brands like Nike, H&M, and Adidas.

    In a warning notice published on its website on Tuesday, China's General Administration of Customs listed companies including Lego, Ralph Lauren, Zara, Muji, and others as being flagged for quality and safety risks during the agency's annual examinations.

    The children's product quality issued from June 2020 to May 2021 involved 81 imported children’s clothing products, 10 brands, and 5 categories. The examination found that the products did not meet safety standards and were somehow deficient in product descriptions and labeling.

    Nine batches of H&M woven cotton girls' dresses were found to contain what custom authorities claimed to be dyes and other harmful substances that could be easily ingested or absorbed through skin. The officials stated the same concern for a Nike cotton-knit boys' t-shirt, as well as two products from Zara which were a set of children's pajamas and a pair of cotton-knit baby shorts.

    Similar risks were said to have been spotted in clothing items from The Gap and girls’ T-shirts from GU, a sister retailer of the Japanese chain Uniqlo.

    According to reports, it is not the first time H&M and Zara have been targeted with this type of safety warning. Similar announcements were made in May of last year, when Chinese customs accused the two brands of importing children’s clothes that had potential health risks for children. However, this represents the first time that brands Nike, GU and Gap have been included in the list.

    China’s General Administration of Customs said it had confiscated, destroyed or returned the non-compliant products, which included children's clothing, children's toys, children's toothbrushes and children's shoes.

    Global brands have faced growing resistance from Chinese shoppers, who have taken to boycotting companies that are refusing to use cotton grown in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, citing accusations of human rights violations.

    H&M products have even been removed from China’s main e-commerce sites such as JD.com, Taobao and Pinduoduo.

    In January, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency seized two shipments of cotton shirts belonging to Japanese retailer Uniqlo upon arrival at the Los Angeles and Long Beach port, in violation of sanctions placed on China under suspicion of the retail goods being made with forced labor.

    Muji, a Tokyo-based brand owned by Ryohin Keikaku Co., gets about half its revenue outside its home market from China. The Japanese chain has publicly sided with the Chinese government, saying it uses cotton from the Xinjiang region and doesn’t see a problem with advertising that fact. 

    In fact, Tuesday’s customs notice has prompted patriotic netizens to continue promoting the purchase of domestic brands such as Li-Ning and Anta. Chinese celebrities have also taken to suspending their sponsorship deals with the Swedish company.

    Chairs of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China have since sent a letter to about a dozen NBA players who have deals with these labels, urging them to cut ties. This includes retired NBA All-Star Dwayne Wade, who has a lifetime deal with Li-Ning.

    ​Following the backlash, in May, H&M closed one of its stores in Shanghai, which also came after a complaint about a “problematic map of China” featured on its website, which has since been changed.

    ​Before that, Inditex, the parent company of Zara, announced it would be shuttering all its Bershka, Pull&Bear and Stradivarius stores in China. The Gap has also weighed the option of selling its businesses in China.


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    Lego, Gap, H&M, Zara, sanctions, Xinjiang, customs, China
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