More and more foreign clothing brands are getting caught up in the controversy over cotton from the Xinjiang region of China, where many Uyghurs live in ‘re-education camps’. The fact that several companies express their concerns about forced labor in the important cotton region has caused bad blood for the Chinese.
On Chinese social media, people called on each other to stop buying products from companies like H&M, Nike and Adidas. The Japanese brands Uniqlo and Muji were added. The British luxury brand Burberry, known for its diamond motif, also lost a brand ambassador. Furthermore, Burberry’s iconic clothing has been removed from the popular video game ‘Honor of Kings’.
Popular Chinese actor Wang Yibo cancelled his sponsorship contract with Nike earlier. His colleague Zhou Dongyu followed that example and canceled her contract with Burberry, because the fashion brand did not make a clear statement about cotton from Xinjiang. Actress Ni Ni and boyband star Wang Yuan, announced to sever ties with the Uniqlo brand.
The name of H & M is no longer found on an important e-commerce platform of the Chinese online retail group Alibaba, nor on maps of Apple and Baidu. The shops can still be found via Google Maps. H & M China already came up with a short statement because of the fuss. In it, the company emphasizes that it does not take a political position.
The commotion began after Chinese youth organizations came with angry statements to the Western companies that would spread “false rumors”, but meanwhile make money in China. The fact that the issue is now rising is remarkable because Western companies have not recently announced that they want to sever ties with cotton producers from Xinjiang.
The messages the Chinese respond to were already on the websites of the companies. The actions therefore seem to be a response to recent international developments. Recently, the European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on China for human rights violations.
China has been accused for years of suppressing the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang. Uighurs in camps, imprisoned, tortured, and has been sterilized and put to forced labor, say human rights activists, and experts from the United Nations (un). The government in Beijing denies doing so and claims that extremist and terrorist Uighurs are being re-educated in camps.