Western retail giants Nike and H&M are facing a backlash in China after they expressed concern over allegations that Uighurs were forced to work on cotton farms in Xinjiang.
Many Chinese called for a boycott of these two companies, and celebrities in China severed ties with them, in addition to the Chinese abandoning the use of H&M e-commerce platforms.
This development comes in light of the imposition of several Western countries sanctions on China this week.
China is accused of committing serious human rights violations against the Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region.
Sanctions, including travel bans and financial assets freezes, target senior Chinese officials in the northwestern region of China.
In December, the BBC published the results of an investigation it had conducted based on new research showing China forcing hundreds of thousands of minorities, including Uighur Muslims, to manual labor in Xinjiang’s cotton fields.
What are the two companies doing in China?
And the two companies referred to last year issued two separate statements about what Uighur Muslims are exposed to, but they have returned to the forefront in recent days following the announcement of Western countries imposing sanctions on China.
The two companies said, in separate statements, that they were “concerned” by reports of forced labor by Uighurs in Xinjiang, and the two companies added that they do not import any products from this region.
But the latest uproar appears to have erupted following the publication of a post on social media by the Communist Youth League, a group affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.
The association said on the Chinese platform Weibo on Wednesday morning in response to the statement issued by H&M regarding: “How do you spread rumors related to the Xinjiang cotton boycott, and at the same time make profits in China, is this not a wishful thinking?”
State media launched campaigns defending Xinjiang cotton and criticizing traded trademarks.
China International Television Network (CGTN) exchanged a video on Weibo that allegedly shows the reality of cotton harvesting in Xinjiang, which included technological modernization, and citations attributed to Uighur farms in which he stated that people “fought” so that they could work there. And get big revenue.
China Central Television (CCTV) said H&M had “miscalculated” by trying to be a “good hero” and that it “should pay a heavy price for its wrongful actions.”
The branch of H&M in China did not respond to BBC questions in this regard, but the company published a statement on Wednesday on Weibo, saying that it “respects Chinese consumers as always” and that it “does not represent any political position.”
Wednesday night’s reports said at least three major Chinese e-commerce platforms Pinduoduo, JD.com and Tmall had withdrawn H&M products from sales.
Celebrities such as Wang Yibo, Huang Xuan and Victoria Song issued statements saying that they had severed ties with these brands, saying that “the interests of the country are above everything.”
Social media saw a wave of criticism against the two companies, with many calls urging people to boycott their products.
The hashtag “Support Xinjiang Cotton” now tops Weibo.
H&M has a long-standing relationship with China and is important to both sides. China is a large market for H&M and is one of the main sources in terms of market supply.
But Beijing does not want anyone to blame China on the grounds that it is a purely domestic issue.
The answer lies in the experience of South Korea or the Philippines, both of which have suffered greatly from their store chains and fruit exports in the wake of diplomatic squabbles.
China loves to use its commercial power and nationally-driven retail operations to pressure governments and multinationals.