WASHINGTON – Global fashion retailer H&M, boycotted in China over concerns over alleged use of Uyghur forced labor in cotton production, vows to win back customers in one of the strongest markets of the world.
China is a very important market for us and our long term commitment to the country remains strong, H&M saidWe are currently developing forward-looking strategies and actively working on the next steps in material sourcing.
We are committed to winning back the trust of our customers, colleagues and business partners in China, a company statement said on Wednesday. China is H&M fourth market behind Germany, the United States and Great Britain, and accounted for around 6% of 2020 turnover.
Analysts told VOA Mandarin that Beijing’s propaganda apparatus fabricated the current backlash and predicted the outcry will die out quickly.
Slow to boil
H&M issued a statement in September 2020 in which it was concerned about allegations of forced labor in cotton production in Xinjiang.
We do not work with any clothing manufacturing factory located in XUAR, and we do not source products from this region, the statement says.XUAR refers to China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which is home to Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
The Swedish retailer was not acting alone. A few months earlier, in July, more than 175 organizations had launched a campaign to persuade international brands to sever ties with suppliers allegedly linked to the use Uyghur forced labor. One in five garments sold globally is tainted with forced labor because 84% of China’s cotton production comes from Xinjiang, the Uyghur region, according to the coalition’s website. Virtually the entire clothing industry is contaminated, the group said.
China paid little attention at the time, although allegations of forced labor have focused companies on finding alternative suppliers.
Then, following the announcement of Western sanctions against Chinese officials linked to the oppression in Xinjiang, the Communist Youth League, a group of the Chinese Communist Party, mobilized.
The group posted on its official Weibo account on March 24 that H&M was spreading rumors to boycott cotton from Xinjiang, while making big profits in China, with reference to the 2020 statement released by H&M, one of the largest retailers. fashion in the world. Wishful thinking! says the post.
Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD deleted H&M from their online platforms, a great success given that more than a fifth of purchases in China are made online, according to the Associated Press.
H&M stores in China have disappeared from online maps, according to Barrons.
The cotton backlash has grown to include Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Uniqlo and Lacoste, all of which need access to one of the world’s largest and fastest growing markets.
Dozens of Chinese celebrities terminated endorsement contracts with H&M and other western brands.
For companies that affect the profitability of our country, the answer is very clear: do not buy! China Central Television said on its social media account, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He said that the H and M in the Swedish name stood for Chinese words meaning lie and lie.
Zuo La, a Taiwan-based citizen journalist from Hunan Province of China, told VOA Mandarin that President Xi Jinping’s government was behind the boycott.
This government has fueled nationalist sentiment in China and suppressed rational voices among Chinese citizens. I think that’s true to this wave of boycott; it was run by the government and did not come directly from the average citizen, he said.
Wang Debang, a human rights activist from southern Chinese city of Guilin, agreed.
Boycott and nationalism are currently controlled by the authorities. They have been deliberately exaggerated and promoted on the internet, Wang told VOA.
Richard Chamberlain, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, in a note quoted by Reuters said: We have seen brands like Nike and H&M overcome similar controversies in the past and maintain relatively strong sales, but in the short term we believe that H&M could see a negative impact on its sales in the large booming Chinese market. growth.
Wang also mentioned that similar past boycotts, a boycott of Japanese goods in 2012 and 2018 on the disputed Senkaku Islands, ended shortly after the initial outcry. The disputed territory is called the Diaoyu Islands in China.
I don’t think patriotism is behind all these boycotts. It was state control in the name of patriotism, Wang told VOA.
Hangzhou-based veteran journalist and blogger Zan Aizong told VOA that while some online sites boycott H&M and other international brands, other brands, including Nike, see sales increase.
McKinsey & Company, the consultancy, released a report China: Still the Engine of Global Growth After COVID-19 suggesting the sales increases are more than anecdotal.
Consumers, a key driver of China’s economic rebound, have regained confidence and are spending to levels seen before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.
Zan said consumer demand would outweigh the boycott.
I think consumers will think this way: it’s my money, why would my decision be controlled by the government? he said. As long as these international brands have their own appeal, either in function or in price, I think consumers will continue to buy them.
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