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Fast Retailing keeping eye on cotton supply amid Xinjiang controversy

Visitors to a shopping mall wearing masks stand before a Uniqlo store in Beijing on Monday, March 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Fast Retailing Co. Chairman and CEO Tadashi Yanai said Thursday his company is keeping an eye on its cotton supply chain to ensure none of its products are made with forced labor in Xinjiang.

    At a press conference to report its earnings results in Tokyo, Yanai said that his company, which runs the Uniqlo casual clothing chain, would immediately halt business with suppliers "if such a problem is found."

    However, he declined further comment on human rights issues related to the Uyghur Muslim minority in China's far-western region, saying he wants to be "politically neutral" in operating his business.

    Tokyo-based advocacy group Human Rights Now said Fast Retailing was among around 80 global brands named by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank as "directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through abusive labor transfer programs."

    "Human rights are important and we have been doing everything that needs to be done," Yanai said.

    The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on China over possible human rights abuses.

    In China, a boycott of Hennes & Mauritz AB's H&M clothing products has spread since attention was drawn online to a 2020 statement by the Swedish fashion brand operator pledging to stop sourcing cotton from Xinjiang following allegations of forced labor, which Beijing denies.

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