Multinational retail giants H&M and Nike are facing severe criticism on Chinese social media following their statements expressing profound concern over forced labour reports in northwestern Xinjiang province.
In September last year, H&M issued a statement in response to the growing international scrutiny of China's use of Uyghurs in forced labour in Xinjiang.
In the statement, the clothing retailer stated that it was "deeply concerned about reports from civil society organisations and the media alleging forced labour and persecution against ethnoreligious minorities" in Xinjiang. It also added that it had stopped buying cotton from the region's growers, The Indian Express reported.
Row Over Treatment Of Uyghurs
H&M is witnessing online outrage from Chinese users more than eight months later, in the backdrop of Western countries' sanctions against China over its handling of Uyghurs.
Amid the escalating row over the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, several countries have imposed sanctions. Britain, Canada, the European Union, and the United States declared sanctions on Chinese officials and accused China of violating human rights on Monday, March 22,
Nearly one in every five cotton garments sold worldwide includes cotton or yarn from the region. The officials in that region have turned as many as 10 lakh Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other predominantly Muslim minorities into model workers obedient to the Communist Party by forced labour programmes and mass internment.
Popular sports brand Nike also could be under scrutiny as the company released a statement on its website expressing concern over forced labour reports in Xinjiang on Wednesday. According to the statement, "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."
Celebrities Oppose Brands
Nike was at the top of Weibo's "hot search" chart on Wednesday, March 24. Nike's decision to support the boycott of cotton from the area enraged some users.
Chinese actor Wang Yibo terminated his contract with Nike as a response to the company's statement, his agency said on Weibo on Thursday. Wang opposed the company statement on Weibo and called it an "act to smear China".
Huang Xuan, another Chinese actor who had a menswear contract with H&M, issued a statement announcing his plans to quit the company, stating he opposed slander and creating rumours and any effort to undermine the country.
At least three major Chinese e-commerce platforms, Pinduoduo, Jingdong, and Tmall, had removed H&M from search engine results and stopped selling its goods by Wednesday evening.
H&M's Statement On Criticism
The acts highlighted the challenges international companies face while doing business in China as they navigate political and cultural disputes about the country's sovereignty and human rights record.
H&M China issued a statement on Wednesday on the Sina Weibo site, stating the company did not represent any political position.
"H&M Group respects Chinese consumers as always," adding that "We are committed to long-term investment and development in China," the company's statement read.