Nike, H&M face boycott by China market over Xinjiang labour ‘concerns’

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International brands H&M and Nike are facing a boycott in China after statements were made months ago regarding their concern about reports of forced labour allegedly being used to produce cotton in the country’s western region of Xinjiang.

The retail giants have been caught in an escalating firestorm that has erupted on Chinese social media over the past day with many calling for boycotts while celebrities have cut ties with the brands.

The outrage started after several Western countries imposed sanctions on China this week, accusing the communist government of committing serious human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslim minority.

China has repeatedly denies the accusation and insists that the camps are training centres aiming to de-radicalised and abort extremism of its minority population.

The sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, target senior officials in the north-west region.

In December the BBC published in an investigation based on new research showing China was forcing hundreds of thousands of minorities including Uyghurs into manual labour in Xinjiang’s cotton fields.

The statements in question were made by the companies last year, but only resurfaced in recent days following the announcement of Western sanctions.

Both companies had said in separate statements that they were “concerned” about reports that Uyghurs were being forced to pick cotton in Xinjiang, and that they did not source products from the region.

But the latest furore appears to have been sparked by a recent social media post by the Communist Youth League, a Chinese Communist Party group.

“Spreading rumours to boycott Xinjiang cotton, while also wanting to make money in China? Wishful thinking!” it said on microblogging platform Weibo on Wednesday morning, as it shared screenshots of H&M’s statement.

State media outlets have since launched campaigns defending Xinjiang cotton and criticising the brands.

Chinese state media CGTN shared a video on Weibo claiming to show the reality of cotton-picking in Xinjiang, which involved automation and quotes from a Uyghur farmer saying that people “fought” to work there for high earnings.

State broadcaster CCTV said that H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) – a multinational firm with the headquarters in Sweden – had “miscalculated” in trying to be a “righteous hero”, and that it “must pay a heavy price for its wrong actions”.

H&M China has not yet responded to queries from the BBC, but the company posted a statement on Weibo on Wednesday saying that it “respects Chinese consumers as always” and that it “does not represent any political position”.

By Wednesday night, at least three major Chinese e-commerce platforms – Pinduoduo, JD.com and Tmall – had withdrawn H&M products from sale, reports said.

Various celebrities such as Wang Yibo, Huang Xuan and Victoria Song released statements that they were severing ties with the brands, with one noting that “the country’s interests are above all”.

Social media has seen a huge wave of backlash against both companies, with numerous calls for people to boycott their products. The hashtag “I support Xinjiang cotton” is now the top trending topic on Weibo with more than 1.8bn views. (Source: BBC)

 

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