Just Do It! – H&M and Nike Face China’s Fury Over Uighur Stance

Written by | Monday, March 29th, 2021

Retail giants such as UK’s H&M and US‘ Nike are ‚boiling‘ in a hot soup in China over their comments about forced Uighur labour. Both companies are now facing a massive social media backlash in China for statements on the use of forced Uighur labour to pick cotton in the northwestern Xinjiang province. Xinjiang is currently in the middle of tit-for-tat sanctions between Beijing and the West for alleged human rights abuses. The European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada on Monday (22 March) imposed sanctions on Chinese officials accusing them of human rights abuses in the Chinese province. China retaliated with its own sanctions against several European and British lawmakers, institutions and academics.
In separate statements, H&M and Nike had earlier said that they were “concerned” about reports that Uighurs were being forced to pick cotton in Xinjiang, and that they did not source products from the region. At least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been held in camps in Xinjiang, according to human right groups, where authorities are also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour. The massive online backlash against the retail giants was triggered by a social media post by the Communist Youth League, a Communist Party of China (CPC) group, on Wednesday (24 March) after it published old statements made by the companies. Moreover, two Chinese TV stars Wang Yibo and Tan Songyun on Thursday (25 March) said they would cut ties with sportswear brand Nike for registering concerns over forced labour in Xinjiang while clothing brand H&M faced calls for a boycott. China denies the allegations of abuses, insisting labour camps are in fact training programmes and work schemes that have helped stamp out “extremism” and raise incomes.
In a related but separate development, France-based Association of Uighurs last month announced they have sued Nike for ‘complicity in forced labour’. The lawsuit filed against Nike alleges the company had been implicated in “deceptive business practices and complicity in the concealment of forced labour.” The sports brand is accused of sub-contracting Chinese factories that use coercive labour schemes against members of the Uighur minority. Nike has denied the forced labour allegations, stating that “Nike is committed to ethical and responsible manufacturing and we uphold international labour standards.“ The negative publicity linked with the case contrasts with the company’s recent public stances against racism and discrimination. The accusations against Nike have also prompted a campaign on social media in Europe, with some calls to boycott the company. For example, French MEP Raphaël Glucksmann, who has been vocal about the situation of Uighurs in China, said in June 2020 that more than 20,000 people had called out Nike on Instagram, stressing that new EU legislation is needed to hold companies legally responsible for any form of violation of human rights in their supply chain.

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