On Wednesday, Australia’s Olympians joined in global feuds over Chinese cotton subjected to forced labor as the country revealed its uniforms for the upcoming Tokyo Games.
Australia’s Olympic committee has come under fire over the rollout of ASICS-branded sportswear, as the company faces questions over its use of cotton from the Xinjiang region.
“We were assured that none of the Australian Olympic team’s cotton came from this region,” said Ian Chesterman, vice-president of the Australian Olympic Committee.
“I think the athletes need to focus on their job right now, which is going out and competing for Australia,” he told a press conference.
At least one million Uyghurs and people belonging to other predominantly Muslim groups have reportedly been detained in camps in Xinjiang, northwest China.
Human rights groups, independent media and foreign governments have found evidence that local authorities carried out mass detentions, forced labor, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilization.
The United States has called the situation genocide and has banned all cotton from Xinjiang. The Australian parliament is considering a similar move.
Several big fashion brands recently announced that they would no longer use cotton from Xinjiang – for fear it was produced by forced labor.
But ASICS was one of several companies – hoping to secure access to the vast Chinese market – that initially responded to the allegations by vowing to “continue to buy and support cotton from Xinjiang.”
– ‘Disgusting and shameful’ –
Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, was among critics describing Australia’s use of ASICS sportswear as “disgusting and shameful”.
An ASICS spokesperson told AFP on Wednesday that the company’s initial statement on Chinese social media was “unauthorized” and did not represent “our official corporate position on this issue.”
“We are fully committed to working closely with our business partners to ensure respect for human rights and compliance with environmental standards at all times,” the spokesperson said.
The Chinese government has denied committing rights violations, but companies that have expressed concerns have been punished.
Swedish fashion retailer H&M disappeared from Chinese shopping apps and was the victim of a boycott.
Chinese state tabloid Global Times said on Tuesday that ASICS had become “the latest target of a boycott by Chinese customers” and was facing “catastrophic losses” after reversing its initial statement .
China is one of the world’s largest suppliers of cotton, accounting for around one-fifth of the world total.
It is believed that nearly 90% of Chinese cotton comes from Xinjiang.
“I don’t think an Australian athlete wants to wear a uniform made by a company that sources cotton from Xinjiang,” Elaine Pearson, Australian director of Human Rights Watch, told AFP.
“This is a test for companies like ASICS on their commitment to upholding human rights principles,” she said.
“They need to exercise due diligence and be transparent in their reporting on their supply chain. ”
“The Chinese government is showing its true colors by pressuring companies to be complicit in the abuses rather than working to end violations against Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslims,” Pearson added.
© 2021 AFP