H&M, Nike face boycott in China over refusal to buy Xinjiang cotton

Swedish multinational clothing-retail company, H&M is facing a boycott in China over its refusal to use Xinjiang cotton amid allegations of forced labour of the Uighur minority.

The Swedish retailer said last year it was “deeply concerned” by abuse reports there – a statement which resurfaced on social media, sparking outrage.

Major e-commerce platforms have since dropped the firm, while two celebrities have cut ties with the company.

It comes as several Western countries imposed sanctions on China this week.

The sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, target senior officials in the north-west region of Xinjiang who have been accused of serious human rights violations against Uighur Muslims.

What Happened?

The uproar appears to have been sparked by a social media post by the Communist Youth League, a Chinese Communist Party group.

“Spreading rumours to boycott Xinjiang cotton, while also wanting to make money in China? Wishful thinking!” it said on microblogging platform Weibo on Wednesday morning, as it shared screenshots of the retailer’s statement from last year.

Later that evening, state broadcaster CCTV said in a statement that H&M had “miscalculated” in trying to be a “righteous hero”, and that it “must pay a heavy price for its wrong actions”.

A Weibo post by Chinese state media CGTN shared a video showing the “reality” of cotton-picking in Xinjiang, which involved automation and quotes from a Uighur farmer saying that people “fought” to work there for high earnings.

By Wednesday night, at least three major Chinese e-commerce platforms – Pinduoduo, and Tmall withdrew H&M products from sale, reports said.

Chinese stars Huang Xuan and Victoria Song released statements that they have severed ties with the brand, with the latter noting that “the country’s interests are above all”.

Social media has seen a huge wave of backlash against the company, with numerous calls for people to boycott its products.

The outrage does seem to be spreading beyond H&M. Anger is also being lashed out at sportwear giant Nike for expressing similar concerns, with Chinese actor and singer Wang Yibo announced that he has severed ties with the sportswear giant on Thursday.