Walmart faces backlash in China after US passes law flagging imports from Xinjiang region

The world’s biggest retailer is facing backlash in China over the way it is handling business regarding the region of Xinjiang after the U.S. passed a law essentially banning all imports from the northwest region due to forced labor and human rights issues.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart drew angry responses on Chinese social media starting last week after users logged comments that appeared to indicate the company is no longer stocking products that are manufactured in the Xinjiang in China-based Walmart and Sam’s Club outlets.

Some users claimed to have canceled Sam’s Club memberships while accounts run by Chinese Communist Party entities also blasted the retailer.

The northwestern region of China is home to millions of mostly Muslim minorities and “has become a geopolitical flashpoint and an ethical dilemma for U.S. multinationals doing business in China,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The White House has charged Beijing with engaging in genocidal policies regarding religious minorities that live in Xinjiang.

Ahead of Christmas, President Biden signed legislation called the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act after it was passed nearly unanimously in Congress. The measure bars all imports to the United States from the region unless firms can certify that products made there are not manufactured using forced labor.

As it has in the past, the Chinese government has pushed back on the U.S. allegations that it engages in forced labor and genocide. Beijing has described its policies in the region as aimed at preventing terrorism while enhancing national security.

Still, some U.S. companies have taken a softer approach. Last week, semiconductor behemoth Intel apologized to Chinese consumers, partners, and the public at large after complaints on social media were made against the chipmaker. The outcry stemmed from a letter published on the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company to suppliers requesting that they avoid sourcing materials from Xinjiang. The company’s original letter said that the request came in response to U.S. law, but Intel officials did not say which law they were referring to.

“Other Western businesses, including fast-fashion retailer H&M Hennes and Mauritz AB and sportswear maker Nike Inc., have also recently been targets of Chinese consumer fury,” WSJ reported. “H&M’s online presence was erased from the Chinese internet this spring after the Swedish apparel firm said it would stop sourcing from Xinjiang.”

The controversy began for Walmart on Friday after social media users using Chinese-controlled domestic platforms wrote that they were unable to find items that were sourced from Xinjiang in online stores the company operates. Some complained that online customer service agents told them items including red dates and apples were merely out of stock.

“The Wall Street Journal found no Xinjiang product listings on Walmart and Sam’s Club’s China e-commerce stores,” the paper reported. “However, a visit to a Walmart store in Beijing’s central business district on Saturday found red dates sourced from Xinjiang still stocked on its shelves.”

One user on social media app Weibo blasted Walmart for “eating China’s rice, yet slapping our face.”

Jon Dougherty


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