China gets ugly when retail trade group questions its slave labor in Xinjiang

China is getting ugly. 

Here's what they did when a retail trade group expressed concerns about its slave labor practices in the western province of Xinjiang.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

A debate over how much to push back against the Chinese government has set off a conflict inside a prominent coalition that guides much of the world’s cotton production.

The Better Cotton Initiative, a collaboration among big brands like Nike Inc. NKE -0.46% and Gap Inc., GPS -0.12% environmental groups, farmers and human-rights organizations, has for years worked to bolster the global apparel industry’s access to sustainably produced cotton.

But the Chinese government’s recent attacks on the group and one of its leading members, fast-fashion giant H&M Hennes & Mauritz HM.B 0.45% AB, have raised concerns about whether BCI’s fashion brands can continue selling clothes in China—a huge and fast-growing consumer market—if the group challenges Beijing again.

In March, Beijing all but erased H&M’s internet presence in the country after the company and BCI raised concerns about allegations of forced labor in the cotton-rich Chinese region of Xinjiang.

That's right, they literally blocked a big international foreign investor, Sweden's H&M, whose fast-fashion clothing retail stores are fixtures in the retail malls of the U.S., but also include at least 400 retail stores in China, from being able to sell anything at all in China.

Here's how gross it was, from the Journal's March report:

On Thursday, ordering a car to an H&M store was impossible on Didi, the country’s largest ride-hailing app, which didn’t recognize the brand as a valid destination. Searching for H&M on multiple Chinese map apps, including Baidu Maps, run by China’s largest search engine, returned zero results, as if the clothing company didn’t exist despite its over 400 stores in China.

Shoppers planning to purchase H&M clothing online were also out of luck. Starting Wednesday, searches for H&M’s name on platforms operated by China’s largest e-commerce companies— Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Pinduoduo Inc. and JD.com Inc. —yielded no results. Multiple Chinese Android app stores appeared to have removed one of H&M’s shopping apps.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Last week, the Communist Youth League and the People’s Liberation Army called out an H&M statement dating back to September that expressed concern about reports of Uyghurs in forced labor. That turned the company into a symbol for foreign companies meddling in internal Chinese politics. Then store locations vanished from online maps, Chinese e-commerce platforms dropped the brand and about 20 H&M stores were shut, some by landlords.

The backlash was swift and markedly stronger than previous reactions when foreign brands crossed political lines. The unwanted attention comes just as the economy in China, the Swedish company’s biggest growth engine, roars back to life. China accounted for 6 per cent of revenue last quarter, making it the third-biggest market after the US and Germany.
The Herald also reported that a Chinese rival retailer called 'Shein' seems to be interested in taking H&M's business position in the youthful Chinese retail market, quite a coincidence.
 
That's quite a penalty for a company with the temerity to speak out, one which has been pretty good to China through its investments.
 
It's also pretty unfortunate, given that both the trade group and H&M caved, both removing their China-critical statements from their websites in order to get back in good with the Chinese authorities, if not save their investments. It was almost certainly due to ChiCom pressure.
 
It tells us two things:
 
China has some devotion out there to slave labor, with an intensity comparable to that of the antebellum South, where the economy there was so undiversified that slavery grew in in importance in the mid-1800s, even as it was dying out elsewhere, quite contrary the rest of the country, and slaveholding became a creepy sort of religion, "better for" those in bondage, see, and thus, institutionalized harder, with crazier and crazier radicals defending it.
 
Two, China is a hellish business partner. They pretend to be reliable, modern, and developed, but only for those playing by their own rules, which can be summed up as "China wins." That includes chattel slavery up north in Xinjiang, and nobody better look closely. Anyone saying 'no' to that racket gets cancelled by the communists in Beijing. It's as if all the pieties about sustainability and fair wages and all that promoted by today's mildly wokester companies such as Sweden's H&M go out the window with China, which views any pressure for reform from them as a mortal threat.
 
It's a shame to see retailers, eyes still agoggle at the prospect of sales in China's huge billion-plus retail market, along with its advanced manufacturing. That's where the cave-ins come from, this view that China can always be reasoned with. They ought to pull out of the place as a group, head for Mexico and Bangladesh, and be done with it. 
 
Something's got to give with these goings on. China's the one who should be scared of displeasing the big foreign investors, not the other way around. All I can think as I read of this bad treatment for the first time is that President Trump was right about these guys, and I may just boycott China myself.
 
 
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