Nike is among a number of brands being criticized for comments regarding reports of forced labor in China's Xinjiang province. The Oregon-based sportswear brand has issued a statement mentioning concerns regarding the reports of forced labor, going on to add that it would not source textiles from the region, all of which has led to backlash in China.
“We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR),” Nike said. “Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region.”
According to The Guardian, following the statement, multiple Chinese celebrities have severed ties with Nike due to the company's recent claims, including 23-year-old actor Wang Yibo. "I firmly oppose any act to smear China," he said. Fellow Chinese actor Tan Songyun also decided to end her contract with Nike following the brand's comments on forced labor.
China’s biggest sneaker resale site, Dewu (known as Poizen in English) also announced it had removed all Nike products indefinitely from its platform.
H&M is facing similar backlash after a year-old statement was circulated on Chinese social media sites, which indicated that the brand had decided to stop sourcing cotton from Xinjiang. The Swedish company also terminated its relationship with a Chinese yarn producer last year, citing forced labor accusations in the region.
Since then, Chinese online shopping site Taobao has removed H&M products from its platform, while two well-known Chinese actors have cut ties with the brand as well. And Xinjiang’s largest shopping centre, Jiahui Shidai, in the region’s capital of Urumqi also announced on Weibo it would shutter its H&M store.
H&M China responded to the controversy on Wednesday saying it “does not represent any political position” and that it remains committed to a long-term investment in China.
Within the last year, many global brands have spoken out against sourcing from Xinjiang (which produces about a fifth of the world's cotton) following a UN report alleging human rights abuses in mass detention camps in the region. The UN estimates that there are at least one million Uyghurs, as well as members of other Muslim minority groups, that are forced into so-called “re-education programs” and forced labor, such as picking cotton.
Some of the brands that previously took a public stance against Xinjiang cotton include adidas, New Balance, and Burberry and they're swiftly beginning to feel the backlash too. Notably, Honour of Kings, a hugely popular mobile game in China, announced it is canceling a highly-anticipated collaboration with Burberry. Then actors Zhou Dongyu and Song Weilong announced they would no longer appear as brand ambassadors for Burberry. Similarly, adidas also lost brand ambassadors Dilraba Dilmurat, Eason Chan, and Liu Yifen.
Meanwhile, some international brands like Muji are choosing to go a different route. The Japanese lifestyle retailer announced on Thursday that its stores in China will continue to carry products made with Xinjiang cotton, but they will display a label reading “Xinjiang cotton.” It is unclear whether Muji will continue selling cotton from the region in other markets outside China.
It's clear the political storm over Xinjiang cotton is only just kicking off. It remains to be seen whether more international companies and apparel brands will take a stance in the matter faced with the potential backlash and losing marketplaces in China.