LONDON – After the sudden blackout on H&M in China, Nike, Uniqlo, and Adidas have slid into the hot seat as new targets over their stance to remove Xinjiang cotton out of their supply chains.
On Wednesday, the Swedish fast-fashion brand was suddenly removed from all major Chinese e-commerce platforms including Tmall, Taobao, JD.com, and Pinduoduo. Later, its mobile application was banned on Huawei, Xiaomi, Vivo, and Tencent’s China app stores, and Chinese navigation providers such as Baidu, Dianping, and AutoNavi also removed H&M’s physical store information from their platforms. Ride-hailing platform Didi, China’s version of Uber, also has blocked H&M–riders are not able to list H&M physical stores as their destination.
On Thursday morning, Weibo’s trending news ranking was dominated by Xinjiang cotton-related topics.
Nike topped the list, as the brand’s ambassador Wang Yibo’s studio announced that he is terminating his collaboration with the American sportswear giant, and said: “Our company and Wang resolutely resist any speech and behavior that tarnishes China, the dignity of the country can not be violated, and we resolutely protect the interests of the motherland.”
Uniqlo drew fewer criticisms online, in comparison. The brand’s local ambassadors include Ni Ni, Lei Jiayin, and Roy Wang. None of them have made any announcements to distance themselves from the brand so far.
However, the brands’ online stores are still searchable across Chinese e-commerce platforms at press time.
These brands’ decision to stop using cotton from China’s Xinjiang region was rooted in concerns over reports of mass forced labor camps in the region. At the start of the year, the U.S. government stated that Beijing’s repression of Uighur and other Muslims in the region constituted “genocide.”
While these companies addressed the issue some time ago, the sudden targeting seems to be in retaliation to the ratcheting up of tensions over the issue in recent days. The U.S., Canada, the U.K., and the European Union, coordinated this week for the first time to condemn the country’s alleged human rights violations toward Xinjiang’s Uighur minority and launched sanctions on some Chinese government-affiliated individuals.
Meanwhile, pro-Xinjiang cotton hashtags–Xinjiang’s snow white cotton, Xinjiang cotton can barely meet China’s demand alone, and Chinese sportswear brand Li Ning puts made in Xinjiang cotton on its labels as proof for premium quality, were also trending.
At the same time, Chinese sportswear group Anta announced that it is withdrawing from the Better Cotton Initiative, saying the organization’s recent statement is “seriously concerning.”
“We have always sourced and used cotton from China’s cotton-producing regions, including Xinjiang cotton, and will continue to source and use Chinese cotton in the future,” the brand added.
Hu Xijing, editor-in-chief of the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times, wrote on Weibo that: “When you enter a country, follow the customs. Their rules and habits over in the west need to adhere to the principles of Chinese society. The statements made by H&M and Nike to the Western society are now colliding with the attitudes of the Chinese public.”