Walmart is the latest Western brand to become caught up in controversy while attempting to navigate Chinese politics.
Claims on Chinese social media
In December 2021, Chinese users began posting on social media that they could no longer find Xinjiang-sourced products on the Sam’s Club app, according to CNN Business. “I can’t find any of Xinjiang’s food products that I used to buy on Sam’s Club, including their famous red dates, raisins and apples,” one user posted Dec. 22 on Douban.com, a Chinese discussion and networking website. “At the same time last year, these products were everywhere. But now I can’t find even one. It’s hard to believe they are not doing this on purpose.” President Joe Biden recently signed a bill banning imports of products made in Xinjiang because of concerns about alleged forced labor.
Walmart is just the latest Western brand that has landed in in hot water about human rights in Xinjiang. According to the U.S. State Department, they believe up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are residing in detention centers across the region.
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China has repeatedly issued denial of Uyghur people being abused or forced into labor. Instead, they have claimed using re-education camps to prevent religious extremism and terrorism.
The Douban.com user’s comments were shared by others who had similar experiences on other Chinese social media platforms, including Weibo and Xiaohongshu.
Chinese government steps in
Sam’s Club representatives said Xinjiang products were “sold out” after the complaints went viral, according to Chinese nationalist website Guancha.cn.
A Sam’s Club customer service representative told CNN Business that the products from Xinjiang were no longer available “mainly because of the storage situation.”
“At present, stores will also provide some similar goods for customers to choose,” the representative said without any further details.
Sam’s Club was accused on Friday by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party of trying to be ambiguous to avoid controversy.
The Chinese agency blamed Sam’s Club for “stupidity” and “shortsightedness.”
“Anyone with any knowledge of chain inventory management will realize that pulling all Xinjiang products off the shelves because of ‘inventory’ is a self-deceiving excuse,” the government agency said. “To maintain the regular operation of Sam’s Club, how could it happen that all products from Xinjiang were out of stock?”
The agency demanded that Walmart “show sufficient sincerity” to gain a “firm foothold” in China, one of Walmart’s largest international markets.