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H&M, Nike and other Western brands face growing consumer boycott in China due to Xinjiang backlash

By PhilSTAR L!fe Published Mar 26, 2021 3:56 pm

China has launched a PR war on Western brands critical of rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, with celebrities severing ties to Nike and Adidas, H&M facing a boycott and Burberry dumped from a deal with a gaming giant.

At least one million Uyghurs and people from other mostly Muslim groups have been held in camps in the region, according to right groups, where authorities are also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

It is one of the world's top cotton-producing areas feeding many Western garment brands with textiles. But several firms have tried to put distance between their brands and Xinjiang cotton producers since the allegations emerged. 

That has enraged China, which denies any abuses, insisting labour camps are in fact training programs and work schemes that have helped stamp out extremism and raise incomes.

On Thursday celebrities, tech brands, and state media -- aided by outrage on China's tightly-controlled social media -- piled in on several global fashion brands, as China's vast consumer market was mobilised against critics of Beijing's actions in Xinjiang.

'Malicious attacks'
"Chinese people will not allow some foreigners to eat China's rice while smashing its bowls," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing.

"The Chinese market is here... we open our hearts to welcome foreign companies... But we oppose malicious attacks on China based on rumours and lies, and harm China's interests."

Chinese TV stars Wang Yibo and Tan Songyun said they would end all promotional partnerships with Nike, after a year-old company statement was regurgitated online noting it was "very concerned" by the allegations of forced labour.

Similarly, Hong Kong star Eason Chan ended collaboration with Adidas, adding he "resolutely boycotts any acts stigmatizing China".

Statements from actors and pop stars cascaded out across the afternoon ending contracts with brands including Converse and Calvin Klein.

Gaming giant Tencent pulled a new "skin" project linked with Burberry on avatars in the Glory of Kings game, while Swedish clothing giant H&M's products vanished from shopping sites in apparent retaliation for its decision to no longer source cotton from Xinjiang.

Global brands are often consumed by PR crises in China after touching politically sensitive subjects.

The NBA in 2019 was dropped by Chinese broadcasters after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a message of support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. (AFP)