The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) has come under fire again in China for removing a statement on its website about forced labour in Xinjiang without explanation.
The world's largest cotton sustainability programme, which covers 14 per cent of global cotton production, said it ceased all field-level activities in Xinjiang in October due to allegations of forced labour and human rights issues and had suspended all licensing for the region since March 2020.
However, the statement was removed when foreign clothing retailers, many of them BCI members such as H&M and Nike, faced boycotts in China for avoiding cotton produced in Xinjiang in March.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
The Communist Youth League and Chinese state media publicised the removal of the statement this week, and accused the BCI of being hypocritical and ungrateful.
"[Your] face must hurt! BCI secretly removed a statement 'boycotting Xinjiang cotton'," the Communist Youth League posted on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, on Thursday.
China News Service published a column that said the BCI should acknowledge it made a mistake and apologise.
Headquartered in Geneva, the BCI said the statement was removed due to a cyberattack on its website and its policy remained unchanged.
The Economist's China affairs editor Gady Epstein said on Twitter on Thursday that he had asked the BCI about the statement's disappearance and was told "they took down the statement in response to DDoS attacks and would eventually 'repost relevant information'".
The BCI did not immediately respond to the South China Morning Post's request for comment.
Industry bodies in China are stepping up plans to launch a Chinese version of the BCI, which would set national standards for cotton production.
Xinjiang court to hear defamation case against German researcher Adrian Zenz over forced labour claims
The United Nations and human rights groups have alleged that 1 million Turkic-speaking Muslim Uygur people have been interned in re-education centres and subjected to indoctrination, torture and forced labour.
Beijing has repeatedly denied the allegations and said its policies were designed to fight terrorism, alleviate poverty and raise people's standard of living through job training.
Western countries, including the US and Canada, said the treatment of the Uygurs constituted genocide and levelled sanctions against Chinese officials and entities. The US banned cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang in January.
Beijing has retaliated with its sanctions of its own and propaganda campaigns to drive boycotts of international brands that do not follow its stance on Xinjiang.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Xinjiang: will the West's sanctions on China force the issue or unravel?
- Better Cotton Initiative's fall a cautionary tale of trying to be all things to all people
- Chinese branch of Better Cotton Initiative challenges headquarters and says it has found no evidence of Xinjiang forced labour
- Xinjiang cotton: Western companies in China are between a rock and a hard place
- Hit by Xinjiang cotton backlash, H&M aims to 'regain trust in China'