'Disgusting and shameful': Australia caught in Olympic uniform row

Athletes, pictured here posing form the Australian Olympic Team Tokyo 2020 uniform unveiling.
Athletes pose during the Australian Olympic Team Tokyo 2020 uniform unveiling. (Photo by Hanna Lassen/Getty Images)

The Australian Olympic Committee is facing fierce backlash over their choice to use ASICS for athletes' uniforms at this year's Tokyo Games.

The AOC faced criticism on Wednesday as it rolled out ASICS-branded sportswear, with the company facing questions over its use of cotton from the Xinjiang region in China.

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China is currently at the centre of a global row over forced-labour cotton in the Xinjiang region, as well as the treatment of Uyghurs and people from other Muslim groups.

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."

At least one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim people 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 has described the situation as genocide and banned all cotton from Xinjiang, while 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."

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."

Lucy Stephan, Jake Birtwhistle, Katie Ebzery and Tom O'Halloran, pictured here showing off the new uniforms.
Lucy Stephan, Jake Birtwhistle, Katie Ebzery and Tom O'Halloran show off the new uniforms. (Photo by Hanna Lassen/Getty Images)

"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.

AOC vice president Ian Chesterman played down the furore on Wednesday.

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

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

Companies voice concerns over Xinjiang cotton

The Chinese government has 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 its initial statement.

Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho, pictured here in Australia's beach volleyball uniforms for the Tokyo Olympics.
Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho unveil Australia's beach volleyball uniforms for the Tokyo Games. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

China is 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 comes 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.

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

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

with AFP

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