An increasing number of major global brands are facing criticism in China over their stance against using cotton sourced from the Xinjiang region due to alleged forced labor issues.
Over the past couple days, Nike, Adidas and H&M were among the several apparel and footwear companies that came under fire in one of their biggest markets in the world for statements that were issued months or even a year ago. Chinese government officials denounced the chains and Chinese brand ambassadors ended their affiliations with their respective brands, while social media users on Weibo accused the brands of smearing China.
H&M became the first company to encounter backlash yesterday, when a statement was circulated on Chinese social media websites. According to the statement, which was published a year ago, the Swedish fast-fashion giant’s sourcing partner, Better Cotton Initiative, was unable to guarantee that its supply chain was free of forced labor.
After the statement made waves on social media, searches for “H&M” and “HM” revealed no results on Alibaba’s Tmall, JD.com and Pinduoduo, indicating that the brand was blocked from such platforms. Weibo users also called for a boycott of H&M, which operates more than 400 stores in China, while celebrities Huang Xuan and Song Qian had both announced their intentions to sever ties with the brand.
The fallout has also impacted sportswear brands like Nike and Adidas, which have also lost brand ambassadors after taking a stand against using Xinjiang cotton.
Social media users had unearthed a statement from the Beaverton, Ore.-based Swoosh, which wrote in March 2020 that it was “concerned” about reports of forced labor “in, and connected to,” the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. “Nike does not source products from the XUAR, and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region,” it wrote in the statement. In response, brand ambassadors Wang Yibo and Tan Songyun announced on Weibo that they ended their relationships with the brand.
Today, the Germany-based Three Stripes, which has deals with many Chinese A-listers, also became a trending topic on China-based social media websites. Thus far, Dilraba Dilmurat, Jackson Yee, Eason Chan and five other celebrities have said that they would terminate their partnerships with the brand. Other companies that are in the hot seat include New Balance and Burberry, as well as Converse, Uniqlo and Calvin Klein.
H&M, Nike and Adidas did not immediately respond to FN’s request for comment. FN has also reached out to New Balance, Burberry, Converse, Uniqlo and Calvin Klein.
Early this week, the United States, European Union, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. In a statement, the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association and the United States Fashion Industry Association applauded the announcement.
“All stakeholders must play an active role to bring the current genocide to an end,” the trade groups wrote. “For our part, the business community has spent the last two years working to end any nexus with Xinjiang or with Uyghurs trafficked to other parts of China in order to undercut one component of the campaign of oppression against Uyghurs — forced labor. And we continue to work with the U.S. government and Congress to implement an effective and enforceable strategy to address forced labor in and related to Xinjiang.”