Tokyo Olympics 2020: Xinjiang link prompts concerns over Australian athletes' uniforms

'We've been assured that none of the cotton for the Australian Olympic team comes from that region,' said Ian Chesterman, Australian Olympic Committee vice president.

Agence France-Presse March 31, 2021 10:11:16 IST
Tokyo Olympics 2020: Xinjiang link prompts concerns over Australian athletes' uniforms

"We've been assured that none of the cotton for the Australian Olympic team comes from that region," said Ian Chesterman, Australian Olympic Committee vice president.

Sydney: Australian Olympians became embroiled in the global row over Chinese forced-labour cotton on Wednesday as the country revealed its uniforms for the upcoming Tokyo Games. 

The Australian Olympic committee faced criticism as they rolled out ASICS-branded sportswear, with the company facing questions over their use of cotton from the Xinjiang region.

"We've been assured that none of the cotton for the Australian Olympic team comes from that region," said Ian Chesterman, Australian Olympic Committee vice president.

"I think athletes at the moment need to focus on what their job is, which is to get out there and compete for Australia," he said during a press conference.

At least one million Uyghurs and people from other mostly Muslim groups are believed to have been held in camps in Xinjiang, in China's northwest. 

Human rights groups, independent media and foreign governments have found evidence that the local authorities have carried out mass detention, forced labour, political indoctrination, torture, and forcible sterilisation.

The United States have described the situation as genocide and banned all cotton from Xinjiang. Australia's parliament is considering a similar move.

Several major fashion brands recently announced they would no longer use cotton from Xinjiang - for fear it has been produced by forced labour.

But ASICS was one of several firms - hoping to safeguard access to China's vast marketplace - that initially responded to the allegations by vowing to "continue to purchase and support Xinjiang cotton." 

'Disgusting and shameful'

Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, was among the critics describing Australia's use of ASICS sportswear as "disgusting and shameful."

An ASICS spokesperson told AFP on Wednesday that the initial company statement on Chinese social media was "unauthorised" and did not represent "our official corporate position on this matter." 

"We are fully committed to working closely with business partners to ensure human rights are respected and environmental standards are met at all times," the spokesperson said.

The Chinese government have denied carrying out rights abuses but companies that have voiced concerns have been punished.

Swedish fashion retailer H&M disappeared from Chinese shopping apps and been targeted for boycott.

Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times on Tuesday said ASICS had become "the latest target of a boycott by Chinese customers" and was facing "catastrophic losses" after backtracking on their initial statement.

China are one of the world's largest suppliers of cotton, making up around one-fifth of the global total.

Almost 90 percent of China's cotton is believed to come from Xinjiang.

"I don't think any Australian athlete wants to wear a uniform produced by a company that is sourcing cotton from Xinjiang," Elaine Pearson, Australia director for Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

"This is a test case for companies like ASICS about how committed they are to upholding human rights principles," she said. 

"They should do their due diligence and be transparent in reporting about their supply chain."

"The Chinese government is showing their true colours by pressuring companies to be complicit in abuses rather than working to end violations against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims," Pearson added.

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