Biz Quick Take: Time for Sam’s Club to apologize, as Xinjiang official issues warning
Published: Jan 13, 2022 09:01 PM
Sam's Club

Sam's Club

An official from Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on Thursday issued a stern warning to US retail giant Walmart Inc's Sam's Club over its egregious act of removing Xinjiang products from the shelves without a valid reason.

While reiterating that so-called forced labor is a complete lie, Xu Guixiang, a spokesperson for the Xinjiang regional government, said that he has learned that Sam's Club has recently removed Xinjiang product.

"Sam's Club has been in China for more than 20 years. Even as it's earning money from Chinese consumers, it removes Chinese products from the shelves. This behavior violates market rules and does not conform to ethical standards, and will inevitably be strongly resisted by Chinese consumers," Xu said, warning "relevant firms" against sacrificing their interests to appease to the US government.

The remarks are the most direct and harshest criticism yet of Sam's Club from a Chinese official, since the US company was found to have removed Xinjiang products from its shelves a couple of weeks ago. The pointed criticism summed the anger among Chinese consumers toward the firm. 

Sam's Club's has not offered a reasonable explanation yet, let along an apology, other than saying it was a misunderstanding. In the face of growing anger among Chinese consumers and officials, such an attempt to evade responsibility will certainly not work. It's time for the US company to apologize, or it will face further backlash.   

Chinese consumers have already moved to cancel their memberships, in large numbers in certain cities, at the high-end membership store of Walmart to express their anger toward the US supermarket brand.

How can Sam's Club expect Chinese consumers to silently accept this kind of behavior that is not only offensive but also harmful for China's national interests? From the recent cases of H&M and Intel, Sam's Club should see clearly that the attitude of Chinese consumers is only a mirror of the behavior of foreign companies. Very simply, if they want to earn the trust of Chinese consumers, they must not adopt the political lies of Western anti-China politicians.

Though some foreign companies have faced backlash in the Chinese market for similar actions, others have also earned praises. Recently, the US electric carmaker Tesla opened a showroom in Xinjiang, brushing off manufactured outrage from anti-China US politicians. In the retailing industry, Carrefour supermarkets and Metro hypermarkets have launched shopping events to promote Xinjiang products. Both events have been well received by Chinese consumers.

Though Sam's Club is a tough position, and no action would immediately repair its damaged image, the best option forward is to acknowledge the mistake and offer a sincere apology. That's not unprecedented. Intel just did that and more - erasing the reference to Xinjiang in its letter that started the trouble.