Tokyo, April 13 (Jiji Press)–Japanese apparel and other goods makers are struggling to cope with the alleged forced labor issue in China’s Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region.
On Friday, an aid group for Uighurs and other parties filed a complaint with a Paris court against fashion giants including Japan’s Fast Retailing Co. <9983>, the operator of Uniqlo and other clothing store chains, accusing them of profiting from forced labor of Uighurs, a Chinese ethnic minority.
Other Japanese firms, including Ryohin Keikaku Co. <7453>, the operator of Muji brand clothing and household goods stores, and sports goods maker Asics Corp. <7936>, are also pressed to make a tough decision about selling products that use cotton made in the Xinjiang Uighur region.
In China, Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz AB, or H&M, faced a consumer boycott after releasing a statement suggesting the possibility of not procuring cotton from Xinjiang due to forced labor concerns.
Japanese apparel companies, while worrying about being hit by such a boycott, are also wary of coming under a backlash in Japan and Western countries over poor human rights awareness, becoming caught in a dilemma.
At a press conference on Thursday, Tadashi Yanai, chairman and president of Fast Retailing, avoided making a clear comment on whether the company’s products use cotton made in Xinjiang.
“We monitor all of our plants and we cease to do business if we find any problem,” Yanai said. “Beyond that, it becomes a political matter, rather than a human rights issue, so I won’t comment.”
On the accusation by the aid group and others, Fast Retailing said it cannot comment because it does not know the details of the accusation.
Ryohin Keikaku said there is no sewing plant in Xinjiang to which the Muji shop operator directly outsources production. Ryohin Keikaku investigated a company in the autonomous region that is indirectly linked to its supply chains and said it found no serious problem. The Japanese firm said it will continue to maintain a business relationship with the Xinjiang company while keeping a careful watch on it.
Asics said it has strengthened efforts to instruct its suppliers to be conscious about human rights and the environment when procuring materials. The company did not clarify whether it uses Xinjiang cotton in its products.
Manufacturers are struggling to collect information about where the materials being used in their products are made in. “We’re paying careful attention but we cannot say we have absolutely no deal” related to Xinjiang, an official of a major Japanese apparel maker said.