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Nike joins H&M amid turmoil in China

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                After the Swedish H&M, the American giant Nike and the German Adidas, but also other foreign retail brands are the subject of criticism on social networks in China.  The potential impact of this boycott for these brands could be enormous, but they are playing their image there.

                                    <p>The social media frenzy triggered by <strong>the call of the Chinese authorities</strong> to prevent foreign brands from tarnishing China's name echoes several events in recent months.  According to Mary-Françoise Renard, professor emeritus at Clermont Auvergne University and specialist in the economy of China, the tone of Chinese policy has hardened a lot in recent years.

« Chinese vocabulary is often violent when it comes to diplomacy. He softened a little under Deng Xiaoping [auteur des réformes chinoises dans les années 1980, ndlr]. But with the current Chinese head of state, Xi Jinping, we are witnessing a rise in tensions. We saw it between China and the United States, and we see it today between China and Europe “. But why this boycott of foreign brands has been launched now and why this so violent response from Beijing?

International pressures

The issue of forced labor by Uyghurs in northwest China’s Xinjiang province has been the subject of international pressure from Washington and Brussels against Beijing for several months. This region is a large area of ​​world cotton production and supplies many textile behemoths.

According to a study by the Australian Institute for Political Strategy (Aspi) published in March 2020, the Chinese government has transferred 80,000 members of the Uyghur Muslim minority, detained in internment camps, to factories supplying multinationals. Following the publication of this report, Nike pledged to stop buying cotton from Xinjiang.

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► To read also: Uyghurs: internal China of children in “camps for orphans”, denounces Amnesty

This Nike press release appropriately reappeared this week on the Chinese social network Weibo, triggering a controversy also fueled by the imposition on Monday March 22 by the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada of sanctions against the China vis-à-vis the treatment of Uyghurs. In retaliation, Beijing had sanctioned European personalities and organizations.

Ethical considerations come into play

Following a controversy targeting Nike, several Chinese celebrities have announced that they have cut their ties with the brand. The American joins other foreign brands, including in particular the Swedish H&M and the German Adidas, which suffered the wrath of several Chinese media and Internet users a little earlier. Their products have disappeared from Chinese platforms. Result: the Chinese market being a huge market, these groups will lose a lot of money in the short term.

« For these groups, it is something non-negotiable. By making people work in conditions close to slavery, by working with a country that is known to be carrying out genocide in a region, it was becoming extremely difficult for these brands, even if not everyone ‘has no strong ethical considerations, it was becoming difficult for them to continue to act as if nothing had happened », Estimates Mary-Françoise Renard.

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Thus, according to the expert, these companies had no other choice but to no longer produce in China. Undoubtedly, the reasons for these companies are also economic: in the medium and long term they would lose credibility by agreeing to work in these conditions.

To leave… to come back better?

Once banned from China, will these brands permanently lose this lucrative market? Not so sure. “ These groups have two possibilities: to extend their market to countries other than China by playing precisely on these ethical considerations, by using them to increase their advertising and their market share. And then on the other hand, reappear in China in other forms or under other names for example », Says Mary-Françoise Renard.

For example, H&M has approximately 400 stores in China, its fourth largest market in the world. The Swedish group recorded a turnover of 930 million euros there. After its withdrawal from Chinese online sales sites, H&M China declared that it did not endorse any political position and remained committed for the long term in China.

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H&M says it wants to stay in China for the long term. © Ng Han Guan/AP
    </div><h2>We expect a lot from Europe</h2>However, this boycott of foreign brands does have a political background.  And on this, we expect a lot from Europe, notes the expert.  On December 30, 2020, Brussels and Beijing approved the conclusion "<em> the principle </em>»A broad agreement on investments.  Beijing has pledged to provide unprecedented access to European businesses while beefing up its efforts against forced labor.  "<em> We hope that Europe will have a real industrial strategy vis-à-vis Beijing.  But that it also defend human rights by insisting that these rights are universal, and that it is ready to brandish its threats not only in China, but also elsewhere, in countries that violate human rights. </em>», Concludes Mary-Françoise Renard.

►Also read: International guest – « China has emerged from diplomatic practices »


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