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Western brands face China backlash over political statements

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

25 Mar 2021

Nike was the recipient of Chinese backlash after the sporting goods giant stated it does not use cotton from China’s Xinjiang region, where currently an international human rights crisis is ensuing with the alleged forced labour camps of the Uyghur people.

On Weibo, China’s most popular social media channel, a retaliation against Nike began when Popular Chinese actor Wang Yibo terminated his contract as a representative for Nike as a response to social media criticism over the company’s Xinjiang statement, his agency said.

“We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR),” Nike said in a statement. “Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region.”

The social media fallout comes as relations between the United States and China have deteriorated in recent years, with the US, EU, UK and Canada increasing sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses.

H&M store on Tmall blocked

H&M on Wednesday faced a similar backlash, when it founds its collections blocked on Alibaba’s Tmall, with users on Weibo calling for a boycott of the Swedish fast fashion chain.

Actor Huang Xuan severed ties with H&M, stating he opposes behaviour that “spreads rumours about China and human rights.” The state media has also gone on the defensive, according to France24, with local broadcaster CCTV criticising H&M for “eating China’s rice while smashing its pot.” H&M operates over 500 stores in China, generating over 1.1 billion dollars in sales.

As brands risk angering local populations, China continues to defiantly deny any human rights abuses, despite the country having a well-documented track record of such according to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2020. The report states: “China’s government sees human rights as an existential threat. At home, the Chinese Communist Party, worried that permitting political freedom would jeopardize its grasp on power, has constructed an Orwellian high-tech surveillance state and a sophisticated internet censorship system to monitor and suppress public criticism.”

Image: H&M and Nike