Since the time China’s Wuhan was recognized as the originating geographical location of the novel coronavirus, the XI Jinping led country has faced troubles and struggles in not only maintaining social and bilateral ties but also sustaining its economic relations. The communist party of China has witnessed multiple incidents of criticism, sanctions, and blockages with the united states of America under former President Donald trump leading the battle. One of the most controversial happenings is that of labour market in Xinjiang and exploitative behavior with the Uyghurs Muslims in the region. Another series of heated arguments and sanction have flooded in recently with the sanctions imposed by the European Union on Chinese officials.
Earlier this month, a decision was taken by the 27-nation European Union, Britain, Canada and the United States to impose financial and travel sanctions on the four Chinese officials that were blamed for abuses in Xinjiang. Washington also imposed a ban in January on imports of cotton from Xinjiang, which was considered as the major supplier to producers of clothes for the Western market. Europe has been so far the only focus of China’s official outrage, possibly because the relations with Europe had been friendly among the hatred with Washington over disputes related to trade and accusation of Chinese spying and technology stealing.
On 26 March 2021, Thursday the ruling Chinese communist party called up on boycott of H&M with Beijing lashing out at the foreign footwear and clothing brands as it retaliates on the Western sanctions imposed on Chinese officials on account of human rights abuse accusations in the Northwest region of Xinjiang, China.
All of this started on Wednesday with the post that was put up on social media account to an H&M statement stating that it would not be purchasing cotton that is grown in the Xinjiang region of China. As told by the Swedish retailer and many other brands they were “deeply concerned” with the reports of forced labour practised over there.
On Thursday, The Global Times, a party newspaper criticized the statement that was given by Burberry, Adidas, Nike and New Balance as having made “cutting remarks” about the cotton in Xinjiang as early as two years ago. Popular singers, actors and celebrities including Wang Yibo announced breaking the future contracts with H&M and Nike respectively. Also, a separate Global Times report cited what it said was a statement given by Zara about having ‘zero-tolerance approach towards the forced labour being practiced’
To pressurize companies to conform to its official position on multiple sensitive issues surrounding the controversies around China’s authoritarianism such as Tibet and Taiwan, Beijing often attacks foreign clothing, travel, auto and other brands. At last, the companies usually express regret and change their website or advertisement to obtain access to China’s populous market also considered as one of the biggest global markets in the world.
China Central television said on its social media account, “For an enterprise that touches the bottom line of our country, the response is very clear: don’t buy!”. It also said that ‘H’ and ‘M’ meant to lie and falsehood in the Swedish nomenclature.
More than one million people in the Xinjiang region are from predominantly Muslim ethnic groups who have been confined in work camps, as told by government and foreign researchers. Whereas on the other hand, Beijing denies this fact about mistreating them and in defend says it is trying to promote economic development and clear out radicalism.
Feng, the spokesperson of the Commerce Ministry said that the existence of forced labour in the Xinjiang region is a claim that is totally misleading and fictious. He asked up foreign companies to “correct the wrong practices” instead of telling them exactly what they were supposed to do.
H&M products were found missing from China’s most liked e-commerce platforms, like Alibaba Group’s TMall and JD.com, neither did the companies respond to any of the requests for comment. According to the news reports, they were removed due to the public criticism that was created over the Xinjiang statement.
On Wednesday a state television said in a commentary “How can H&M eat Chinese rice and then smash China’s pot?”. On social media account the H&M Group stated that “the company doesn’t represent any political standpoint” and “respects Chinese consumers”. The company deals with 350 Chinese manufacturers to make products that “comply with the principles of Sustainable Development”. The company also reiterated its commitment to long term investment and development in the Chinese territory.
On internet the comments criticized various clothing brands such as Uniqlo of Japan and The Gap of the United States as other possible offenders. The whole scenario was being unclear about whether those accounts were members of the public or they were intentionally made to run by the ruling party’s vast propaganda apparatus.
There was an announcement made by the Pop star Wang Yibo’s about his quitting from the brand ambassador of Nike. Albeit he did not mention Xinjiang anywhere but said indirectly that “he firmly resists any words and actions that pollute China”. There were many others including actor Huan Xuan and Song Qian, a singer and actress also known by Victoria Song who is a former member of the Korean pop group announced that they would end the future contracts with H&M. Also, actress Tang Songyun told that she would break her ties with Nike.
Recently, there was also an announcement made by the Chinese Athletic shoe brand ANTA that it is pulling out of BCI (Better Cotton Initiative), a cotton industry group. Last year, H&M statement cited a decision that was created by the Better Cotton Initiative, an industry group that encourages environmental and labor standards in the working. It was to stop licensing Xinjiang cotton because it became increasingly difficult to trace how they are produced. In September, H&M announced that they would be no longer working with a Chinese manufacturer who is accused of using forced labour in a unit unassociated with the Swedish brand.