Chinese authorities reportedly interrogated workers linked to US company Verité, which investigates supply-chain labor abuses in the country

A Uyghur woman holds up a photograph as evidence in a wood paneled room in London
Uyghur teacher Qelbinur Sidik speaks at a hearing in London in June on China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

  • Workers linked to a US company were interrogated by Chinese officials in April, sources told Axios.
  • The workers were linked to nonprofit Verité, which investigates labor abuses in global supply chains.
  • The State Department said it was “deeply concerned” by the reports.
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At least seven people working in partnership with a US labor-rights company were interrogated for several days by Chinese officials, Axios reported.

Chinese authorities questioned people working on behalf of Verité in April, Axios reported, citing several unnamed sources familiar with the matter. Verité is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that investigates possible labor abuses in supply chains.

The US State Department was “deeply concerned by reports that supply-chain auditors have been detained, threatened, harassed and subjected to constant surveillance while conducting their vital work in China,” a spokesperson told Axios.

It is not clear whether the people were Verité employees or contractors, or which company’s supply chain they were investigating.

Since 2016, China has detained about 1 million Uyghurs in their homeland of Xinjiang in hundreds of prison camps. It claims they are a terror threat. The US government has criticized China for its suspected use of forced labor of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and human-rights groups accuse China of committing “crimes against humanity.” The Chinese government has denied that it uses forced labor in Xinjiang.

Chinese consumers threatened to boycott major clothing brands, including H&M and Nike, after the companies said they would not use cotton produced in Xinjiang.

It is not clear whether the workers were investigating Xinjiang-linked supply chains.

Verité aims to “empower workers to advocate for their rights,” according to its website. It lists Nestlé, Asos, and Disney among its partners and clients.

Verité did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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China reportedly told H&M to ‘bolster its awareness of the national territory’ after citing issues with the retailer’s ‘problematic’ maps

china h&m
A woman walks by an H&M clothing store at a shopping area on March 30, 2021 in Beijing, China.

  • China told H&M to correct what it says is inaccurate mapping on the retailer’s website.
  • H&M has before been criticized by China for listing Hong Kong as a country.
  • Many in China have boycotted H&M recently over year-old comments about accusations of forced labor in the country.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Chinese officials told H&M to fix its mapping system on its website and to “bolster its awareness of national territory,” per a Friday report from the Wall Street Journal.

Regulators reportedly took issue with what some online Chinese users called “problematic Chinese maps” on H&M’s website.

The country’s internet regulator said that H&M has taken steps to correct the map inaccuracies, according to the report. H&M was directed by the regulator to study Chinese laws and “really ensure the standardized use of the Chinese map,” the Journal reports.

H&M declined Insider’s request for comment.

The retailer has drawn criticism from China in the past for labeling Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet as countries, as well as labeling Taiwan as a country on the retailer’s native Taiwan website, the Journal notes.

The government in Beijing considers Taiwan a province of China, not a country on its own, and has increased its military as its attitude toward Taiwan has grown increasingly harsh.

The Swedish retailer became enthralled in controversy following the resurfacing of months-old comments about “forced labor” of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

Reports have found the Uighur minority community to be under persecution, through concentration camps and forced sterilization. China has maintained its position that the camps are “reeducation centers” designed to quell religious extremism and terrorist threats, not facilities designed to extinguish Uighur culture.

The comments were recirculated online last week after some governments, including the US, imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over allegations of human-rights violations. H&M’s criticism of forced labor in the country drew ire from Chinese consumers and companies, who boycotted the brand. Shortly after, H&M appeared to be scrubbed from the internet in China, with products missing from popular shopping sites and the location of H&M’s 500 stores removed from map services.

H&M has since responded to the backlash, saying it is “dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence of our customers, colleagues, and business partners in China.”

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H&M pledges its ‘long-term commitment’ to China after the retailer’s web presence was scrubbed in the country

china h&M
A man walks by an H&M clothing store at a shopping area on March 30, 2021 in Beijing, China.

  • H&M said it is “dedicated to regaining the trust” of Chinese citizens after being scrubbed online.
  • H&M last year criticized China over forced labor accusations, and many citizens boycotted the brand.
  • H&M items and stores were missing from China’s shopping sites and its online map services.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

H&M on Wednesday reiterated its commitment to China following backlash over comments the company made last year about forced labor accusations in the country.

In a blog post, the Swedish retailer said it is “dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence of our customers, colleagues, and business partners in China. By working together with stakeholders and partners, we believe we can take steps in our joint efforts to develop the fashion industry, as well as serve our customers and act in a respectful way.”

H&M called China a “very important market” and said its “long-term commitment to the country remains strong.”

Earlier this week, H&M’s online presence appeared to be scrubbed in China after the company’s comments criticizing China’s forced labor resurfaced online. The criticism recirculated on the social media platform Weibo following sanctions imposed by the US, the European Union, Britain, and Canada on Chinese officials over allegations of human-rights violations.

In the statement it made last year, H&M said it was “deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor.” The company at the time announced it would stop sourcing cotton from the Xinjiang region and would sever ties with a Chinese yarn company that had been accused of forcing labor upon the Uighur Muslim community.

H&M made the change after a report surfaced that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs were being forced into labor. More accounts of Uyghur persecution have since emerged, with officials accused of confining Uyghurs in concentration camps in Xinjiang and forcibly sterilizing Uyghur women. China has denied that characterization of the camps and said they’re actually “reeducation centers,” not facilities designed to stamp out Uyghur culture.

H&M is joined by other big-name brands, including Burberry and Nike, in publicly distancing itself from Xinjiang-sourced cotton. In response to the retailers’ stance against China, Chinese companies and consumers have boycotted the brands over their criticism of the government. Tencent, for example, said it was removing costumes that were designed by Burberry and worn by characters in one of the company’s popular games.

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At least 11 US and European brands are under fire and facing boycotts in China for criticizing alleged forced labor cotton practices in Xinjiang

H&M Shanghai
People walk by a H&M store on Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street in Shanghai, China

  • Chinese consumers are boycotting international brands including H&M and Nike.
  • The boycotted brands pledged not to use cotton from the Xinjiang region in China.
  • Earlier this week, the US and other Western countries sanctioned China over forced labor.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

At least 11 brands are facing boycotts in China over pledges not to use cotton from the Xinjiang region, which is reportedly produced with forced labor.

On Monday the US, EU, Canada, and UK placed sanctions on China for “repressive practices against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.” Following the sanctions, past statements on human rights violations in Xinjiang from retailers including H&M and Nike surfaced on the social media platform Weibo, with users pledging to boycott H&M and other brands that signed a pledge to stop using Xinjiang cotton.

Read more: While Big Retail took a hit, some local boutiques have benefited from offering ‘retail therapy’ to customers eager to invest in quality items

Insider reached out to each of the brands, and have included statements from those who were immediately available to comment.

Here are the affected brands so far.

H&M

H&M
The H&M clothing store in Times Square in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 15, 2019.

Swedish brand H&M said in a statement that it would no longer use cotton from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and ended its relationship with a yarn company in the region. In the statement, the retailer said it was “deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor.”

H&M’s statement was circulated on Chinese social media platform Weibo. H&M products were removed from shopping sites including Alibaba and JD.com, and Baidu Maps removed geolocations of the retailer. Social media posts showed that at least 50 H&M stores were closed across China over fears of protests.

Nike

Nike Beijing
Customers lined up outside the Nike flagship store on the opening day at Wangfujing Street on January 20, 2021 in Beijing, China.

Nike released its own statement about using cotton from the region, saying “We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region.”

People posted videos of burning Air Jordans and Air Force 1s on Weibo in protest. Chinese actor Wang Yibo ended his contract with Nike as a result of the statement.

Adidas

Adidas store

Adidas also stated that it would not use cotton from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Three big stars, Yang Mi, Jackson Yee, and Dilraba Dilmurat, all severed relationships with Adidas as a result, Vice reported.

Converse

converse all stars
Converse shoes.

Celebrities Zhang Yixing, Ouyang Nana, and Bai Jingting ended relationships with Converse over the pledge, The South China Morning Post reported.

Burberry

GettyImages 1229771391
Burberry flagship store in Bond Street London with British flags.

The People’s Daily, which is controlled by China’s Communist party, named Burberry as a company that would not use Xinjiang cotton.

Calvin Klein

calvin klein store
A Calvin Klein store in Mexico City in May 2017.

Chinese celebrity Zhang Yixing stopped promoting Calvin Klein over the pledge.

Under Armour

under armour

Under Armour’s statement echoed many other brands, saying “Under Armour is deeply concerned by credible reports of forced labor and other abuses in, and outside, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).” The athleticwear brand is on the list of brands to boycott.

Tommy Hilfiger

preppy clothing tommy hilfiger

Celebrities have said they will stop promoting clothing brand Tommy Hilfiger over Xinjiang cotton, Vice reported.

New Balance

New Balance military
n this photo taken Wednesday, July 1, 2015, the New Balance proposed 950v2 sneaker, that has passed military testing, is displayed at one of company’s manufacturing facilities in Boston.

The People’s Daily also named New Balance as a company that would not use Xinjiang cotton.

Gap

Gap
People pass by the GAP clothing retail store in Manhattan.

Gap made a statement stating that “We can confirm that we do not source any garments from Xinjiang,” and that the company has “strict policies against the use of involuntary labor.” As a result, Gap was added to the list of brands to boycott on Weibo.

Zara

zara store

Zara’s website had a statement online that called reports of forced labor in Xinjiang “highly concerning,” which has since been removed. Zara was added to the Weibo list of brands to boycott.

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