China attacks H&M and other western clothing and footwear brands over Xinjiang

China’s ruling Communist Party is targeting H&M and other clothing and footwear brands as it responds to Western sanctions imposed on Chinese officials accused of human rights abuses in the northwestern region of China. Xinjiang.

The attacks began when the party’s Youth League drew attention to 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 there.

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

Beijing often attacks foreign brands of clothing, automobiles, travel and others for actions of their governments or to pressure companies to conform to its official positions on Taiwan, Tibet and other issues. sensitive.

Companies usually apologize and modify their websites or advertisements to retain access to China’s heavily populated market. But Xinjiang is an unusually thorny problem. Western brands are under pressure at home to distance themselves from possible abuse.

More than a million people in Xinjiang, most of them 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-country 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 retaliated by saying it would impose unspecified sanctions on EU lawmakers and German researchers who published information on the detention camps.

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 authorizing cotton from Xinjiang because it was “increasingly difficult” to track down. way 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 ban on cotton from Xinjiang, a major supplier of clothing producers to Western markets.

China’s official outrage has so far focused on Europe, perhaps because relations with the EU were relatively friendly amid resentment with Washington over trade disputes and accusations spy and theft technology.

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 the China pot?” State television said in a comment on Wednesday.

Internet users on Thursday pointed to clothing brands Uniqlo from Japan and The Gap from the United States as other possible violators. It was not known how many of these accounts were members of the public and how many were exploited by the ruling party’s vast propaganda apparatus.

Popstar Wang Yibo’s announcement that he was stepping down as Nike’s “brand ambassador” did not mention Xinjiang but said he “strongly opposes all words and actions that pollute the 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 terminate contracts with sponsorship with H&M. Actress Tang Songyun has said she is severing ties with Nike.

Chinese sports shoe brand ANTA has announced its withdrawal from BCI, the cotton industry group.

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