Chinese celebs quit top foreign brands over Xinjiang furore

A woman walks past a Burberry boutique in Beijing, China. Reuters/Thomas Peter.

Chinese celebrity endorsers have abandoned several foreign retail labels, including six U.S. brands such as Nike, as Western concerns over labour conditions in Xinjiang spark a patriotic backlash from consumers.

New Balance, Under Armour, Tommy Hilfiger and Converse, owned by Nike, have come under fire in China for statements that they would not use cotton produced in the farwestern Chinese region due to suspected forced labour.

Activists and UN rights experts have accused China of using mass detainment, torture, forced labour and sterilisations on Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. China denies these claims and says its actions in the region are necessary to counter extremism.

At least 27 Chinese movie stars and singers have declared in the past two days that they would stop cooperating with foreign brands.

Their decision was widely praised by Chinese internet users for being patriotic and trended high on the popular Twitter-like microblog Weibo.

“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, a group that promotes sustainable cotton production which said in October it was suspending its approval of cotton sourced from Xinjiang, citing 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 and he was “firmly against all actions that tarnish China”.

The post has been liked by nearly 800,000 Weibo users.

“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.”

  • Reporting by Ryan Woo and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie, of Reuters.

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