EDITORIAL | Uniqlo case shows Japan must take a stand on China’s rights violations
A recent case highlighted the daunting political risks Japanese companies increasingly face as they strive to expand their business in China.
In January of this year, U.S. customs officials at the Port of Los Angeles suspended the importation of Uniqlo men’s shirts on suspicion of violating a U.S. import ban on items made using forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China.
The suspicions are that the cotton produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a group under the direct control of the Chinese Communist Party, was used as a raw material for Uniqlo products. The US government banned the import of cotton products with any link to this group at the end of 2020.
Uniqlo, a major casual clothing retailer, vigorously denied the accusations, saying it sources raw materials for its shirts from suppliers outside of China. He called the unfair import restrictions and the customs decision “highly regrettable”.
The positions of the two sides are diametrically opposed. However, U.S. Customs say the evidence Uniqlo provided was insufficient to support its claim that none of the materials used involved the use of forced labor. If Uniqlo is not satisfied with the decision, it must provide sufficient evidence to satisfy US Customs.
The biggest lesson to be learned from this incident is that Japanese companies must realize the harsh reality that they can no longer sit on the sidelines as the international company sharply criticizes China for its human rights violations, including the persecution of the Uyghur people.
On the one hand, when Western companies, such as the huge Swedish fashion retailer H&M, announced that they would stop using cotton from Xinjiang, their companies were subjected to boycotts in China with tacit approval. from the Chinese government.
On the other hand, if there is a suspicion of using cotton from Xinjiang, a company risks being in conflict with US sanctions against China. In addition, a French NGO and other parties recently filed complaints against Uniqlo and other companies with the French authorities. It is difficult to please both China and the West.
Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., the retail holding company of which Uniqlo is a subsidiary, has in the past remained strictly neutral on political matters. He also refrained from commenting on the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghurs. It seems fair to say that it is far from the only one among Japanese companies in this regard.
Nonetheless, the question is whether companies should remain silent when gross human rights violations take place before their eyes. In the United States and Europe, among others, there is a strong sense of corporate social responsibility. We must resolve to demand the same from Japanese companies.
The current dilemma, in which Japanese companies find themselves caught between conflicting pressures from China and the West, is at least in part due to the Japanese government’s insipid stance in its foreign policy towards China. .
After all, Japan is the only one of the G7 countries not to impose sanctions related to the Chinese government’s crackdown on Uyghurs. It is high time for Japan to take a stand and clarify its position.
(Lily The Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese on this link.)
Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun