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They burn Nike shoes in China; Adidas and other brands are also taking a hit

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

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Sportswear companies have been the latest victims of a backlash sparked by a call from the Chinese government to stop foreign brands from tarnishing China’s name as netizens found statements they had made in the past on Xinjiang.

Chinese state media had singled out H&M on Wednesday over a statement released last year in which the Swedish fashion retailer said it was deeply concerned about reports of allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang and that he did not source products from the Chinese region.

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

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

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

Some netizens said they would stop buying Nike and support local brands such as Li Ning and Anta, while others told Adidas to leave China.

The dispute creates a dilemma for Western companies who must balance the desire to expand their business in China with consumer opinions in their home markets.

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

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

State-run tabloid Global Times said Spain’s Inditex, owner of Zara, had “quietly removed” a statement about Xinjiang from its English and Spanish websites.

An Inditex webpage saying the company was very concerned about reports alleging social and labor misconduct in various supply chains among ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang was online on March 24, a Google cache showed, but now appears unavailable.

Inditex did not respond to a request for comment. Inditex has 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 which said in October it was suspending its approval of cotton from Xinjiang, citing human rights concerns. man.

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

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

H&M said on Wednesday it respects Chinese consumers and is committed to long-term investment and development in China.

But on Thursday morning, H&M did not exist on some Chinese store locator maps. Searches for H&M stores on Baidu Maps returned no results. The retailer’s official store on Alibaba’s Tmall, an e-commerce platform, was inaccessible.

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

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

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

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