Sam’s Club, a unit of US retail giant Walmart, has denied that it removed Xinjiang-sourced products from its app, terming a controversy on Chinese social media as “a misunderstanding”.
Chinese social media users and local news outlets criticised Sam’s Club, a members-only warehouse club that offers products and services, last week saying it had removed the products from its domestic online stores.
China’s anti-graft agency accused the US retailer and Sam’s Club of “stupidity and short-sightedness” over the matter.
Xinjiang has become a growing point of conflict between Western governments and China, as UN experts and rights groups estimate more than 1 million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in camps there.
A Sam’s Club representative told local analysts in a call organised by a domestic securities firm last week that Chinese consumers failed to find products from Xinjiang because the app does not support searches for products based on names of places.
‘No Reason To Be Afraid’
The call, a full recording of which was shared by a participant, introduced the representative as a Sam’s Club regional e-commerce leader surnamed Zhang. “This matter is a misunderstanding,” Zhang said on the call.
“We didn’t defend ourselves, because, there is no reason to be afraid of things we haven’t done,” Zhang added. A second participant corroborated Zhang’s comments made on the call, which also talked about Sam’s Club’s plans in China.
Walmart did not respond to a request for comment. Neither Walmart nor Sam’s Club has commented publicly so far on the backlash against them in China.
Zhang did not comment on the situation at Walmart, which was also accused of removing products from the far western Chinese region, from both its offline stores and app.
The controversy, which reportedly prompted a wave of Sam’s Club shoppers in China to cancel their memberships, underscores the tightrope foreign companies walk in China as they balance geopolitical tensions between China and the west with China’s importance as a market and supply base.
- Reuters, with George Russell
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