Wednesday, March 31, 2021
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H&M, Nike, Uniqlo and the others in Beijing’s sights

An H&M store in Pekin (China). Illustrative photo. (NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP)

Nike, Adidas and Uniqlo are in the tourente in China. Their mistake is to review their purchases of cotton, from the province of Xinjiang. According to NGOs, at least a million Uyghurs have been interned in “camps” and some subjected to “forced labor”, especially in the region’s cotton fields. And these textile companies have pledged to stop sourcing cotton from Xinjiang.

The reprisals from Beijing, which denies these accusations outright, are brutal: H&M products, for example, have been erased from the country’s main online sales sites. They notably disappeared from Alibaba, the Chinese equivalent of Amazon. It is also impossible to download the mobile application on smartphones. As for the 500 H&M stores in China, they remain open, but they are no longer referenced on local search engines.

H&M is not the only brand to suffer the wrath of Pekin. Zara, Marks & Spencer, Gap, New Balance are in the sights. Thursday, March 25, the controversy swelled even more, after several Chinese stars, ambassadors of brands such as Nike, Adidas, or Uniqlo announced that they wanted to cut ties with these sponsors.

Almost all the clothing giants are affected because China is the biggest producer of cotton on the planet, making six million tonnes a year. Most Western groups therefore source their supplies there. According to a report published last year by 180 NGOs and associations, the cotton of one in five garments sold in the world comes from these Chinese labor and re-education camps. These brands are today torn between their interests there, and their image here, in the West or in Japan, where customers are attached to respect for human rights and corporate social and civic responsibility.

For these brands, the future in China is uncertain. It is, for example, H & M’s fourth largest market. Hence the group’s attempts to calm things down. In a statement, he assures that he does not endorse any political position. For all these brands of clothing or shoes, it is difficult to do without China, this booming market, where economic activity has picked up well while many European countries are still stuck in reconfigurations and the crisis.

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