Chinese celebrity endorsers have relinquished several foreign retail labels, including six U.S. brands such as Nike, as Western concerns over labour circumstances in Xinjiang stimulate a patriotic backlash from consumers.
New Balance, Under Armour, Tommy Hilfiger and Converse, owned by Nike, have come under fire in China for declarations that they would not use cotton developed in the far-western Chinese region due to supposed forced labour.
Activists and U.N. rights experts have accused China of using mass detainment, torture, forced labour and sterilisations on Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. China refutes these assertions and asserts its actions in the region are indispensable to counter extremism.
At least 27 Chinese movie stars and singers have proclaimed that they would quit cooperating with foreign brands in the past two days. Chinese internet users widely applauded their decision for being nationalistic.
“I have bought these kinds of products in the past and this situation doesn‘t mean that I will now throw them away, destroy them or something like that,” said graduate Lucy Liu outside a Beijing shopping mall.
“What I’ll do is just avoid buying them for the moment.”
Some of the brands are members of the Better Cotton Initiative. This group nurtures sustainable cotton production, which said in October it was rescinding its cotton sourced permission from Xinjiang, referring to rights concerns.
Among the celebrities who ended their pacts with foreign brands were a few Uighur artists.
Other brands affected include Burberry, Adidas, Puma, H&M and Fast Retailing’s Uniqlo.
“I can confirm that Uniqlo’s Chinese brand ambassadors have terminated their contracts,” said a Fast Retailing spokesperson.
“Regarding cotton, we only source sustainable cotton, and this has not changed.”
The other companies did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Hong Kong pop singer Eason Chan said on Weibo that he would stop cooperating with Adidas. He was “firmly against all actions that tarnish China”.
Nearly 800,000 Weibo users have liked the post.
“I know you won’t let us down!” one of them wrote. “I’m from Xinjiang.”
Student Wang Xue, 21, visiting Beijing, said she liked to buy comfortable clothes that made her happy.
“As long as they (these brands) are not insulting China, then I’m okay with them,” she said. “But if they are, then I will definitely boycott them.”