Global brands speak out against CCP oppression in Xinjiang

Sportswear giant Nike and fast fashion firm H&M join the campaign against ‘forced labor’ in China amid online storm

Nike has run into a virtual storm after expressing “concern” about the use of forced labor in China’s region of Xinjiang.

The sportswear giant joined a growing band of global brands earlier this week by refusing to use cotton from the area because of human rights abuses.

Online reaction to the “boycott” decision was scathing as anger boiled over on the Twitter-styled social media platform Weibo, fueled by Chinese Communist Party trolls.

“Nike is committed to uphold international labor standards. We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Nike does not source products from the XUAR. We have [also] confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region,” the company said in a statement.

The facts:

  • Major western democracies rolled out sanctions against the ruling CCP this week for human rights violations against ethnic Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
  • They included the United States and the European Union, as well as the United Kingdom and Canada.
  • Nearly 1.4 million Uyghur Muslims have been held in Xinjiang internment camps. 
  • Beijing has called them “reeducation centers.”
  • Human rights groups and the United Nations have expressed grave concerns amid reports of torture, forced labor and sexual abuse.
  • China’s ruling Communist Party has branded the allegations “lies” and launched a propaganda war, shaming multinational companies that dare to speak out.

What was said: “Nike takes seriously any reports about forced labor and we have been engaging with multi-stakeholder working groups to assess collective solutions that will help preserve the integrity of our global supply chains,” the company said.

Hashtag hysteria: “The hashtag #nike [became] the biggest trending topic on Weibo on Thursday with 720 million views and 530,000 comments over its announcement [to] boycott Xinjiang cotton,” China’s state-run Global Times said.

Troll of honor: Comments such as “Nike is even more disgusting than H&M” and “it makes me throw up,” have all the hallmarks of Party trolls. They are known as the 50 Cent Army or government-paid commentators.

Delve deeper: Nike and fast fashion firm H&M are in good company after voicing their concerns. ASOS, Marks and Spencer and Eileen Fisher have also made their positions clear. Luxury brand Burberry, sportswear group Adidas and New Balance are other labels that have reportedly issued statements.

Why it matters: Data released by the “End Uyghur Forced Labour” website illustrated the depth of the problem. “The Uyghur Region supplies more than a fifth of the world’s cotton. Up to 84% of cotton production from China is sourced from the region. One in five cotton garments on the global apparel market is tainted by forced labor,” it said.

Disappearing act: Global companies that speak out against human rights abuses in China tend to be banned and their products removed from online shopping sites.

Celebrity critic: Brand ambassador Wang Yibo, a singer turned film star, has terminated his contract with Nike, the state-controlled CGTN network said in a tweet.

China Factor comment: Earlier this month, we said that sooner or later multinational corporations would have to choose between appeasement and access to China’s economic Shangri-la. Many have brandished their human rights credentials at home but stayed silent in the world’s second-largest economy. Now, that appears to be gradually changing.