Although China is the world’s second-largest cotton producer, it still faces a shortage. The country produced 5.95 million metric tonnes of cotton during the 2020-2021 season, which ended in January, but the demand was about 7.8 million tonnes, the China Grain Reserves Group said in a statement.

Xinjiang manufactured 5.2 million tonnes of cotton during the season, about 87 per cent of the nation’s total production, the group said.

To resolve the shortage, China needs to import two million tonnes of cotton from countries including Brazil and India every year, the group said.

The region is well known for its premium, long-fibre cotton, which is popular in domestic and global markets. In 2019, more than 42 per cent of the region’s cotton was harvested by machinery rather than hand thanks to advanced farming technology, it added.

Chinese social media users on March 24 called for a boycott of H&M, the world’s second-largest clothing retailer, after the Swedish company said it wouldn’t use cotton from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

In a statement in March last year, H&M said it wouldn’t work with any Xinjiang garment manufacturing factories, nor would it source products from the region because the company was concerned about reports of accusations of forced labour.

Although the statement has been on its official website for more than one year, it recently caught attention after netizens reposted it on Chinese social media sites.

By noon on March 25, H&M products were removed from all major Chinese e-commerce platforms, including Taobao and JD. Huang Xuan and Song Qian, two Chinese brand ambassadors of H&M with millions of followers on social media, have severed ties with the company, according to an announcement from their representative on March 24.

H&M has more than 400 stores in China.

Further, the Chinese public has noticed that international companies including Nike, Adidas, Zara, Fila and Gap have issued similar statements about Xinjiang, which has triggered calls for wider boycotts of those brands.

These companies are all members of the Better Cotton Initiative, a Switzerland-based organisation that decided to suspend cooperation with licensed farmers in Xinjiang during the 2020-2021 cotton season over persistent allegations of forced labour in the region, the organisation said in March last year.

According to its official website, the organisation has 2,100 members worldwide, of which nearly 500 are from China, including five retailers and brands and 485 suppliers and manufacturers.

About 67 per cent of the cotton produced in Xinjiang is used domestically, as China is the largest cotton consumer in the world, the China Grain Reserves Group said.