Xinjiang cotton: Chinese brands championed as backlash against West grows
Published2 hours ago
A Li-Ning store is pictured on 20 March 2021 in Suqian, Jiangsu Province of China.
image captionTop Chinese sportswear brand Li Ning is one of several being championed
Chinese state media and netizens are championing local brands while targeting more Western retailers as the Xinjiang cotton backlash grows.
Western brands have come under fire for expressing concern about the alleged use of Uighur forced labour in cotton production in the north-west region.
A campaign that started against H&M and Nike has widened to include Burberry, Adidas and Converse, among others.
It began shortly after several Western countries imposed sanctions on China.
China is accused of committing serious human rights violations against the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.
Beijing denies this, and has hit back with retaliatory sanctions on European lawmakers, scholars and institutions - with the latest imposed on UK entities and individuals on Friday.
In December the BBC published an investigation based on new research showing China was forcing hundreds of thousands of minorities including Uighurs into manual labour in Xinjiang's cotton fields.
The Xinjiang cotton campaign began on Wednesday when Chinese state media outlets and netizens singled out H&M over a statement made last year, and soon expanded to include many other brands.
IMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
image captionA H&M outlet in Urumqi, Xinjiang was shuttered on Thursday with its store signs covered up
They have now called for boycotts of brands associated with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) - a non-profit group that promotes sustainable cotton production - whose members include Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Burberry, Puma, and Tommy Hilfiger.
BCI had said in October it was suspending its approval of the material sourced from Xinjiang, citing human rights concerns.
"If you boycott Xinjiang cotton, we'll boycott you," one person commented on Weibo.
Top celebrities in China, including singer Eason Chan and movie stars Zhang Yixing and Bai Jingting, have since said they would sever ties with some of these brands.
Chinese tech giant Tencent also halted its partnership with the British luxury brand Burberry, which had designed outfits for Honor Of Kings, one of China's biggest video games.
Meanwhile, state media have highlighted a number of Chinese brands including Li Ning, Anta, Peak, and Meters/bonwe, with trending hashtags on Weibo praising the companies for specifically using Xinjiang cotton - Li Ning for instance lists this on its clothing tags.
Social media users have called on consumers to support them, and Li Ning and Anta shares have since reportedly soared.
Anta, the world's third biggest sportswear company, said on Weibo it was a member of BCI, but was pulling out of the initiative. "We have always bought and used cotton produced in China, including Xinjiang cotton, and in the future we will continue to do so," it said.
Japanese sportswear label Asics also pledged support for Xinjiang cotton, while Japanese retailer Muji - which at one point had marketed a "Xinjiang cotton" line of products- told the Global Times it was still selling such items in China.
What is Xinjiang and who are the Uighurs?
Xinjiang, China's biggest region, produces about a fifth of the world's cotton. An autonomous region in theory, in reality it faces restrictions which have only increased in recent years
Millions of China's Uighurs, a Muslim minority that sees itself as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations, live in Xinjiang
In recent decades, mass migration of Han Chinese (China's ethnic majority) to Xinjiang has fuelled tensions with Uighurs which has at points flared into deadly violence
This has resulted in a massive security crackdown and an extensive state surveillance programme, which critics say violate Uighur human rights. China says such measures are necessary to combat separatism and terrorism
Uighurs have been detained at camps where allegations of torture, forced labour and sexual abuse have emerged. China has denied these claims saying the camps are "re-education" facilities aimed at lifting Uighurs out of poverty