They burn Nike shoes in China; Adidas, other brands are also facing negative reactions

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BEIJING (Reuters) – Nike and Adidas were attacked on Chinese social media Thursday over earlier comments by fashion brands about working conditions in Xinjiang, amid a diplomatic row between China and the West. Insider.com reported that Weibo users are even setting Nike shoes on fire due to the controversy raging between the brand and Chinese authorities.

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Sportswear companies were the latest to be caught in a backlash over a Chinese government call to stop foreign brands from smearing China’s name as netizens find out about statements they have made in the past. on Xinjiang.

Chinese state media singled out H&M on Wednesday in a statement released last year in which the Swedish fashion retailer expressed deep concern over reports of forced labor charges in Xinjiang and that it did not source products from the Chinese region.

Nike and Adidas, which are growing rapidly in China, have previously said they do not source any products or yarns from the Xinjiang region. Adidas declined to comment on Thursday and Nike did not respond to requests for further comment.

Earlier this week, China denied allegations of human rights violations by its officials in the western Xinjiang region, home of Muslim Uyghurs, after the European Union, the United States, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on those responsible.

Beijing retaliated with retaliatory sanctions against European lawmakers, academics and institutions.

Some netizens have said they will stop buying Nike and support local brands like Li Ning and Anta, while others have told Adidas to leave China.

The dispute creates a dilemma for Western companies who must strike a balance between the desire to expand their business in China and the views of consumers in their home markets.

“Brands must not give up their human rights responsibilities in the face of this pressure,” said Chloe Cranston of Anti-Slavery International, member of the Coalition to End Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region.

CALLS TO BOYCOTT

Shares of Anta Sports Products Ltd and Li Ning Co surged, while shares of Adidas, Inditex and H&M fell on Thursday.

State tabloid Global Times said Spanish company Inditex, which owns Zara, “quietly removed” a statement about Xinjiang from its English and Spanish websites.

An Inditex webpage indicating that the company was very concerned about reports of social and professional wrongdoing in various supply chains among ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang was online on March 24, a Google cache showed, but now appears to be unavailable.

Inditex did not respond to a request for comment. Inditex previously said it has no business relationship in Xinjiang.

Chinese netizens have also targeted the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a group that promotes sustainable cotton production that said in October it was suspending its approval of cotton from Xinjiang, citing human rights concerns.

BCI members include Nike, Adidas, H&M and Fast Retailing in Japan. The Better Cotton Initiative website also shut down on Thursday. The organization did not respond to a request for comment.

“If you boycott cotton from Xinjiang, we will boycott you. Either Adidas leaves BCI or leaves China,” wrote one netizen.

H&M said on Wednesday it respects Chinese consumers and is committed to investing and developing in China for the long term.

But Thursday morning, H&M did not exist on some Chinese store location maps. Searches for H&M stores on Baidu Maps did not return any results. The retailer’s official store on Alibaba’s Tmall, an e-commerce platform, was inaccessible.

During a daily press briefing at China’s Foreign Ministry, spokeswoman Hua Chunying, when asked about H&M, held up a photo of black Americans picking cotton.

“It was in the United States when black slaves were forced to pick cotton from the fields,” she said.

Hua then held up a second photograph of cotton fields in Xinjiang.

“Over 40% of cotton in Xinjiang is harvested by machines, so alleged forced labor is non-existent.

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