Chinese Consumers Boycott Huge International Retailers

Goran Dautovic Image
ByGoran Dautovic
April 05,2021

An increasing number of Chinese consumers and e-commerce sites are boycotting well-known international retailers such as Nike and H&M. The move came as a response to various Western brands and retailers issuing statements condemning the alleged use of Uyghur forced labor in the Xinjiang province.

Last week, regular consumers, celebrities, and Chinese state media outlets called for a boycott of multiple international outlets that have previously issued statements accusing China of human rights abuses. In 2020, these outlets responded to growing calls by the general public and human rights groups to react to human rights abuse allegations. Now, Chinese e-commerce sites are massively removing products sold by these producers from their stores. Chinese celebrities have also cut ties with said brands, and over 32 million people used the ‘I support Xinjiang cotton’ hashtag on the social media platform Weibo.

One of the hardest-hit companies by this boycott was H&M. The company reported a loss of $122 million in the December-February period. Nike and Adidas also experienced losses, with the Chinese company Anta, often called the ‘Nike of China’, stepping in to fill the vacuum left by the boycott of these brands.

The reason why clothing retailers are even involved in the question of the alleged abuse of this Muslim ethnic minority group is the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s report that states that 82 international and Chinese companies have ties to the Xinjiang province, which represents a crucial link in the global cotton supply chain. As a result, retailers such as H&M, Nike, Victoria’s Secret, Zara, and others felt the need (or were pressured by the public) to condemn the alleged practice of Uyghur forced labor, with some companies even completely cutting ties with the region and its cotton supply.

The Chinese government strongly denies these allegations. However, the reaction of the Chinese public came several months after the retailers mentioned above issued their statements. This late reaction could be due to the fact that said statements weren’t translated nor widely circulating in the Chinese public space until last week. Another explanation could be the new sanctions imposed on Chinese officials last week by the US and its allies.

Even before the Chinese boycott started, some companies have quietly redacted or removed their statements condemning human rights abuses. The reasons are obvious - China is a vast and lucrative market, and most global retailers do not wish to risk losing access to such a significant source of revenue.

This story is another escalation in the increasingly hostile relationship between the US and China, with lines between politics and the private sector becoming more and more blurred.

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