China attacks foreign clothing, shoe brands in Xinjiang

The attacks began when the party’s Youth League drew attention on its social media account to a statement by H&M in March 2020 that it would stop buying cotton grown in Xinjiang.

China’s ruling Communist Party is cracking down on H&M and other clothing and shoe brands as it hits back at Western sanctions on Chinese officials accused of human rights abuses in the northeastern region. western Xinjiang.

The attacks began when the party’s Youth League drew attention on its social media account on Wednesday to a statement by H&M in March 2020 that it would stop buying cotton grown in Xinjiang. The Swedish retailer said it was “deeply concerned” by reports of forced labor in that country.

On Thursday, a party newspaper, the Global Times, cited Burberry, Adidas, Nike and New Balance as having made “sharp remarks” about Xinjiang cotton two years ago. Celebrities such as Wang Yibo, a popular singer and actor, have announced that they are breaking endorsement deals with H&M and Nike.

Beijing often attacks foreign clothing, auto, travel and other brands for the actions of their governments or for pressuring companies to comply with its official positions on Taiwan, Tibet and other issues. sensitive.

Companies usually apologize and change websites or advertising to maintain access to China’s crowded market. But Xinjiang is an exceptionally thorny issue. Western brands are under pressure at home to distance themselves from potential abuse.

More than a million people in Xinjiang, most from predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, have been confined to labor camps, according to researchers and foreign governments. Beijing denies mistreating them and says it is trying to promote economic development and root out radicalism.

On Monday, the 27-nation European Union, the United States, Britain and Canada jointly announced financial and travel sanctions against four senior Chinese officials accused of abuses in Xinjiang.

Beijing hit back, saying it would impose unspecified sanctions on European lawmakers and a German researcher who made information about the detention camps public.

H&M’s statement last March cited a decision by the Better Cotton Initiative, an industry group that promotes environmental and labor standards, to stop licensing cotton from Xinjiang because it was “increasingly difficult”. to trace how it was produced. In September, H&M announced it would stop working with a Chinese manufacturer accused of using forced labor in a unit unrelated to the Swedish brand.

In January, Washington imposed a January ban on cotton from Xinjiang, a major supplier to garment producers for Western markets.

Official Chinese outrage has so far focused on Europe, perhaps because relations with the European Union have been relatively friendly amid rancor with Washington over trade disputes and accusations spying and technology theft. H&M’s official review reflected this tone of grievance at being hurt by a friend.

“How can H&M eat Chinese rice and then break China’s pot?” state television said in a comment on Wednesday.

On Thursday, netizens named clothing brands Uniqlo from Japan and The Gap from the United States as other possible offenders. It was unclear how many of those accounts were members of the public and how many were operated by the ruling party’s vast propaganda apparatus.

Pop star Wang Yibo’s announcement that he was stepping down as Nike “brand ambassador” did not mention Xinjiang but said he “strongly resists all words and actions that pollute China”. Others, including actor Huang Xuan and Song Qian, a singer and actress also known as Victoria Song who is a former member of Korean pop group f(x), have announced that they will be terminating the contracts of sponsorship with H&M. Actress Tang Songyun said she was cutting ties with Nike. Chinese sports shoe brand ANTA has announced its withdrawal from BCI, the cotton industry group.

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