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  • Writer's pictureSerlina

Why is China boycotting western retail giants?

In the north-western area in China, the Xinjiang region, live the ethnic minority group Uyghurs. While Uyghurs speak their language and make up less than half of the Xinjiang population, their culture and people have been under threat. This threat is primarily due to the mass migration of Han Chinese—an ethnic majority in China—to the region.

For years, the Xinjiang region has been known for its cotton with outstanding quality; they produce about a fifth of the world's cotton. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published their report in March 2020, claiming that the Chinese government has facilitated a mass transfer of Uyghurs to factories across China, suggesting the forced labour of Uyghur minorities.

Recent months show increasing evidence regarding reeducation camps in the Xinjiang region. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute found an estimate of 380 camps around the area, which is around a 40% increase from previous estimates.

Though these camps are secured, some people have managed to escape. People who have worked to escaped Xinjiang's reeducation camps report several allegations, including physical, sexual, and mental torture. There were also claims of mass sexual rape and sexual abuse in these camps.

That said, there have been growing concerns recently regarding the source of cotton from major retail brands like H&M, Adidas, Nike, Gap, Marks & Spencer, Puma, Abercrombie & Fitch, and many others. Furthermore, Uyghurs are forced to work for other retail chains in addition to clothing brands; other well-known supply chains include Apple, BMW, Nike, and Samsung.

During a meeting with Beijing's UN Ambassador Zhang Jun and several non-governmental organisations, Zhang was delivered with questions regarding these camps. He claims that the mass detention camps are a part of China's attempt in trying to fight terrorism. Still, governments, UN rights experts, and human rights groups rejected the narrative.

But one question remains, why is China boycotting western brands?

More countries started being more critical towards China for these camps, including the United States, United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada. These countries also went on to announce sanctions on China for their alleged treatment of Uyghurs.

Companies like H&M and Nike have also raised their voices to condemn the issue. Screenshots noting that H&M cited concerns over Xinjiang cotton has cut ties from growers from the region.

These screenshots circulated the Chinese media recently, which led to the boycott of H&M. Hours later, other brands including Nike and Burberry caught public attention for the same reason.

H&M products were starting to be scraped off of Chinese e-commerce platforms like Alibaba. Brands like Nike and Burberry also saw their ambassadors of Chinese descent backing out of their contracts to show solidarity for their central government.

One of the issues with these boycotts is for the companies themselves; With an ever-growing market, Chinese consumers have become one of the biggest markets targeted by companies and heavily rely on their sales revenue.

As for now, it's clear that boycotting western retail giants will benefit local Chinese producers. However, there are still uncertainties in this tense situation. Moving forward, things may escalate further. Western brands and retail giants may have to choose between their moral values or sales revenues.

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