Walmart has been swept up in controversy in China after one of its retailers was accused of removing products sourced from Xinjiang. It’s more evidence of how difficult it has become for Western businesses to navigate international politics in China.
The firestorm began late last month when people on Chinese social media began accusing Sam’s Club, the warehouse retailer owned by Walmart, of removing all Xinjiang-sourced products from its app in the country. Criticism exploded, eventually leading a top Chinese anti-graft agency Friday to accuse Sam’s Club of “stupidity” and “shortsightedness.” “Pulling all products from a region without a good reason hides a hidden agenda,” the ruling Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a statement, adding that Sam’s Club would “get a taste of its own medicine.”
There’s still a lot that’s unclear about the allegations against Walmart and Sam’s Club in China. When asked by CNN Business on Monday about the dispute, Walmart (WMT) declined to comment. The controversy started late last month when some Chinese users posted on social media that they couldn’t find Xinjiang-sourced products on the Sam’s Club app.
This was around the same time that US President Joe Biden signed into law new rules that effectively ban imports of products made in Xinjiang over longstanding concerns about alleged forced labor. “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 December 22 in a snack discussion group on Douban.com, a Chinese movie reviewing and social networking site. “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.”