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US accuses China of campaign against companies over Xinjiang ties

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WASHINGTON: The United States condemned what it called a “state-led” social media campaign in China against US and other international companies for deciding not to use cotton from China’s Xinjiang region over forced labour concerns.

State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said the social media campaign and consumer boycotts had targeted American, European and Japanese businesses.

“We commend and stand with companies that adhere to US laws and ensure that products we are consuming are not made with forced labor,” she told a regular news briefing. “We support and encourage businesses to respect human rights in line with the UN guiding principles on business and human rights and the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises,” she added.

China rejects allegations of abuses in Xinjiang, which is one of the world leading producers of cotton, and describes the camps it has set up there as vocational training centers for Uighur Muslims.

Earlier, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on the international community to “oppose China’s weaponising of private companies’ dependence on its markets to stifle free expression and inhibit ethical business practices.”

READ MORE: West sanctions China over Uighur abuses, Beijing hits back at EU

A number of overseas retailers have faced public backlash from Chinese consumers who have circulated statements from the brands on social media announcing they will cease sourcing from Xinjiang.

Chinese celebrity endorsers have abandoned several foreign retail labels, including six US brands such as Nike, as Western concerns over labour conditions in Xinjiang spark a patriotic backlash from consumers.

New Balance, Under Armour, Tommy Hilfiger and Converse, owned by Nike, are among companies that have come under fire in China for statements that they would not use cotton produced in the far-western Chinese region due to suspected forced labour.

The United States and other Western countries have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which the United States has said have amounted to genocide.

In January, Washington announced an import ban on all cotton and tomato products from the region over allegations that they are made with forced labor from detained Uighur Muslims.