‘Dropping stone on own foot’: China urges Western brands to avoid politics amid boycott over their rejection of Xinjiang cotton

China has warned Western companies against delving into politics, telling them to avoid making remarks about the alleged use of forced labor in Xinjiang’s cotton industry, as multiple companies face backlash and consumer boycotts.

“I don’t think a company should politicize its economic behavior,” Xu Guixiang, a Xinjiang government spokesman, said during a news conference on Monday.

Can H&M continue to make money in the Chinese market? Not anymore.

“They have lost their minds and their conscience, they are enthusiastic about political manipulation and the abuse of sanctions, to a level that is hysterical,” Xu said, adding that he believes the brands have ultimately harmed their own business.

It’s like lifting a stone to drop it on one’s own feet.

A massive social media-driven campaign targeting several Western brands including H&M, Nike, Adidas, Puma and Burberry over their stance on Xinjiang kicked off in China last week. It followed a coordinated action by the EU, Britain, Canada and the US that sanctioned a group of top Xinjiang officials over alleged persecution of the Uighur Muslim minority in the region. China responded in a tit-for-tat fashion over the weekend.

Chinese social media users have unearthed past statements from Western brands on the situation in Xinjiang and their refusal to use cotton originating from the region. Xinjiang is China’s main producer of cotton, accounting for up to 87 percent of the nation’s produce.

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A September 2020 statement by H&M that raised concerns over the alleged use of forced labor in Xinjiang’s cotton industry was widely shared on social media, sparking consumer boycotts and causing multiple Chinese celebrities to sever ties with the offending brands.

China has been firmly rejecting allegations of abuse against the Uighur Muslim minority.

“Their real purpose by fabricating the issue of genocide is to disrupt security and stability in China,” another Xinjiang government spokesman, Elijan Anayat, stated.

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