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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
The People’s Daily, which is controlled by China’s Communist party, named Burberry as a company that would not use Xinjiang cotton.
Chinese celebrity Zhang Yixing stopped promoting Calvin Klein over the pledge.
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.
Celebrities have said they will stop promoting clothing brand Tommy Hilfiger over Xinjiang cotton, Vice reported.
The People’s Daily also named New Balance as a company that would not use Xinjiang cotton.
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’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.