Photo/Illutration Logos of the Uniqlo clothing chain (Provided by Fast Retailing Co.)

Uniqlo brand cotton shirts were blocked at the Port of Los Angeles in January based on a U.S. import ban over forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.

Fast Retailing Co., operator of the Uniqlo casual clothing chain, on May 19 denied use of materials made with forced labor. 

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stopped the shipments over an alleged violation of the U.S. government’s import ban on goods made from cotton produced in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Washington suspects that Beijing is using ethnic minorities there for forced labor.

Raw materials of the Uniqlo shirts allegedly contain cotton that the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) was involved in producing, according to the CBP’s document dated May 10 and Reuters news reports.

The U.S. government has banned all imports of cotton goods the XPCC, a major cotton producer affiliated with China's Communist Party, is involved in their production.

Fast Retailing said the CBP’s decision was extremely regrettable in a statement it issued on May 19.

“We did not find any serious human rights violations, including forced labor, in our supply chains,” Fast Retailing said. “We use cotton that we have confirmed no forced labor was used during the production process.”

Fast Retailing had contested the CBP’s import ban and completed a procedure to do so by April 19, in which it argued that the XPCC was not involved in the production of cotton used in the shirts, according to the CBP document.

But the CBP dismissed the claim for lack of evidence, the document said.

Zhao Lijian, vice head of the news bureau of China’s Foreign Ministry, criticized the move by the United States to block the entry of the shirts at a regular news conference on May 19.

Zhao denied forced labor was being used in the Xinjiang region and said people there are free to choose their occupations. He described the import ban as "bullying" and urged related companies to oppose Washington’s “rude behavior.”

(This article was written by Yuriko Suzuki and Masaki Hashida.)