WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday criticized China for profiting from human rights abuses and said it was watching the issue of forced labor closely after U.S. and other international companies came under attack from Chinese consumers for committing not to use cotton from China's Xinjiang region.
"The international community, in our view, should oppose China's weaponizing of private companies' dependence on its markets to stifle free expression and inhibit ethical business practices," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
She was responding to a question about reports China was exerting pressure on companies that had committed to not using products made with forced labor.
"It is something we are watching closely," she said. "I would expect that (the departments of) State and Commerce will have more to say on this later today."
A number of overseas retailers have faced a public backlash from Chinese consumers who have circulated statements from the brands on social media announcing they will cease sourcing from Xinjiang.
Chinese celebrity endorsers have abandoned several foreign retail labels, including six U.S. brands such as Nike, as Western concerns over labor conditions in Xinjiang spark a patriotic backlash from consumers.
New Balance, Under Armour, Tommy Hilfiger and Converse, owned by Nike, are among companies that have come under fire in China for statements that they would not use cotton produced in the far-western Chinese region due to suspected forced labor.
The United States and other Western countries imposed sanctions on Chinese officials on Monday for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and in January Washington announced an import ban on all cotton and tomato products from the region over allegations that they are made with forced labor from detained Uighur Muslims.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and David Brunnstrom; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)