A farmer picking cotton in a field in Hami in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.(AFP)
A farmer picking cotton in a field in Hami in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.(AFP)

A statement by Nike, H&M on Uighurs. One year later, a backlash by Beijing

  • Chinese state media outlets launched campaigns criticising the Nike and H&M. Various celebrities including Wang Yibo, Huang Xuan and Victoria Song released statements saying that they were severing ties with the brands. But why the backlash?
By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Mallika Soni
UPDATED ON MAR 29, 2021 04:10 PM IST

Retail giants Nike and H&M have faced severe backlash in China over the past week after they expressed their concerns over human rights violations against Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. At least 40 high profile Chinese celebrities cancelled their contracts with the two brands and they were removed from the listings on Chinese e-commerce platforms overnight. Several countries have imposed sanctions on China, accusing the country of ignoring the situation of the Uighur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang autonomous region, allegations which Beijing has continuously denied.

Who are the Uighurs?

China’s biggest autonomous region Xinjiang, which has been facing restrictions from Beijing in recent years, produces about one-fifth of the world’s cotton and is also home to the millions of Uighurs. Uighurs are a Muslim minority, who identify themselves closer to the nearby central Asian nations. Over the past recent years, the Xinjiang region has witnessed the mass migration of the Hans, Chinese ethnic majority, which has resulted in clashes between the two communities.

A gate of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre is photographed in Dabancheng, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China.(Reuters)
A gate of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre is photographed in Dabancheng, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China.(Reuters)

Beijing has taken extreme measures, which included massive security crackdown and surveillance programmes, which are said to violate the human rights of Uighurs. They are reportedly detained at camps where they face torture, forced labour for the production of cotton and are even “re-educated” to make them more like the Han Chinese. China has denied all of these allegations and has said that it has just taken these measures to lift Uighurs out of poverty.

Read more: China has breached all provisions of UN Genocide Convention in Xinjiang: Report

Why are Nike and H&M facing backlash?

Both the companies issued separate statements last year, saying that they were deeply concerned about the reports regarding the Uighurs. According to reports, the Muslim minority community was being forced to pick cotton in the Xinjiang region. The statements resurfaced on Wednesday after the Communist Youth League, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) group, shared the screenshots of the H&M’s statement on social media platform Weibo. “Spreading rumours to boycott Xinjiang cotton, while also wanting to make money in China? Wishful thinking!" it said.

Read more: Secretary General Guterres says UN negotiating with China on unfettered access to Xinjiang

After the post, Chinese state media outlets launched campaigns criticising the brands and various celebrities including Wang Yibo, Huang Xuan and Victoria Song released statements saying that they were severing ties with the brands. The hashtag “I support Xinjiang cotton” was one of the top trending topics on Weibo with more than 1.8 billion views.

What next for the companies?

For H&M, China is one of the main sources of supply as well as a big market and the boycott may severely impact the company. The company’s stores were shut in China, according to a report in Bloomberg. A report in Global Times, which is the mouthpiece of the CCP, said that the companies had crossed a line by “politicising” the Uighur cotton and predicted that the growth prospects of the companies could be cumulatively reduced by 50 per cent in the next five years.

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