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31 Mär 2021

Ross Kerber & Victoria Waldersee, Reuters

Investors press companies on human rights in Xinjiang

A group of religious and socially conscious investors and other funds are ramping up pressure on Western companies over alleged human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region... The group of more than 50 investors... said it is in the process of contacting more than 40 companies, including H&M, VF Corp, Hugo Boss and Zara-owner Inditex, requesting more information about their supply chains and urging them to quit situations that could lead to human rights abuses.

... Over the past week, H&M, Burberry, Nike, Adidas and other Western brands have been hit by consumer boycotts in China after raising concerns about forced labour in Xinjiang... China denies all accusations of abuse... The investor alliance alleged that companies removing or moving statements in relation to Xinjiang were doing so in fear of commercial retaliation from the Chinese government. It also said compliance rules were being developed in other markets, including the European Union, obliging them to fully disclose their supply chains.

... H&M has declined to comment on the removal of details from its website. Inditex has not responded to requests to comment on removal of information from its website. VF Corp’s original statement on Xinjiang was no longer available, with a new statement published on a different section of the site. A VF spokeswoman said on Tuesday the company had “not changed our position, our policies or our practices.”

[...] A BlackRock spokesman noted a recent paper it published stating: “Failure to address human rights-related risks can reverberate across a company’s entire value chain, which may ...impact shareholder value.”

A Vanguard spokeswoman said that it “takes human rights issues very seriously, including allegations of forced labor. If a company’s business practices or products put people’s health or safety at risk, they too can present long-term financial risks to investors.”

Part of the following timelines

China: 83 major brands implicated in report on forced labour of ethnic minorities from Xinjiang assigned to factories across provinces; Includes company responses

China: Mounting concerns over forced labour in Xinjiang

Brands face boycott in China over decision not to source Xinjiang cotton due to allegations of forced labour