譚詠銘Jerry

Apr 5, 2021

5 min read

Should Retail Giants Boycott Xinjiang Cotton?

The very definition of ‘Butterfly Effect’ hits the bullseye especially when it comes to economic globalisation which is conducive to rolling every corner of the globe into one.

‘Butterfly Effect’: One minute localised change in a complex system may have an immeasurable effect somewhere else.

This is definitely true considering the Swedish apparel giant H&M Group’s Statement on Due Diligence published in 2020. Between the lines of this statement on its official website, H&M says that it will stop its cooperation with any garment manufacturing factory located in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Besides, it would not source any raw material or product, cotton in particular, from this region due to its ‘deeply concern’ about several reports from civil society organisations and media that include groundless accusations of ‘forced labour’ and ‘discrimination’ of ethnoreligious minorities living in XUAR. Following suit, a row of international clothing brands, including Nike, Adidas, Zara, Fila, Gap and Uniqlo, had all issued similar statements about Xinjiang, igniting absolute wrath of Chinese people recently and thus pushing the retailers to the verge of ‘slippery slope’ at present.

Let’s have a look at how these accusations are baseless. US footwear brand Skechers: no evidence of Xinjiang ‘forced labour’

There is without a shadow of a doubt that these enterprises should not have uttered such irresponsible statements so as to “break the ‘bowl’ of China while intending to make lots of money from Chinese people,” as a German blogger once said with indignation. What’s more, these firms are doomed to be hoisted by their own petard in consideration of three facets: the current global supply-demand chain, the widespread fury of Chinese people and their boycott, and their ulterior role in a political and economic ‘zero-sum’ game.

A German blogger whose nickname is Siwan, expresses his satiation and indignition about H&M’s political decision towards China.

Global name brands, represented by H&M in the boycott event this March, ought not to fall out with apparel industries or counteract commodities from XUAR in that their campaign has disrupted normal global supply cooperation, thus exerting a detrimental effect on international demand-supply chain especially in the gloom and doom of Covid-19. These giants are oblivious of the fact that “Xinjiang cotton is not a regional product but is deeply embedded in the international trade system,” as Yang Shu, an associate professor at China Agricultural University, puts it in China Daily. As a result, they lose the world’s second largest cotton producer renowned for its premium, long-fibre texture and they are not able to see the wood for the trees.

A cotton harvesting machine works in a field in Aksu prefecture, Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Oct 23, 2020

These clothing majors should not have implemented such entrepreneurial policies to boycott commodities from Xinjiang since their resistant campaigns have triggered outrage of Chinese people from top to toe. To start with, various Chinese celebrities, including actor Wang Yibo, Huang Xuan, and actress Song Qian, announced on 24th March that they had severed ties with these brands, and ‘steadfastly object to’ any action aimed at smearing or spreading disinformation about China and its people. On Thursday afternoon (25th March), sparse consumers were seen at one of the biggest H&M outlets — a three-story store in the popular Sanlitun shopping arcade in Beijing Chaoyang district. Meanwhile, major Chinese e-commerce platforms such as Taobao, Pinduoduo, JD.com and Tmall — had unanimously pulled H&M products from sales, CGTN reported. Consequently, not only have those giants provoked rages of Chinese clienteles, but they are likely to be kicked off from Chinese market for good.

Reporters noticed that H&M in China had had sparse consumers since its statement triggered Chinese customers’ widespread fury last Month. A passerby told CGTN that she’s shopping elsewhere for now. A passerby told CGTN that she’s shopping elsewhere for now. “I read about it last night and as I passed by H&M today I didn’t even want to go in. It definitely affects what to buy in the future. If H&M continues to discriminate, I’ll turn to others,” she said.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Ms. Hua Chunying in a news press said: “it’s only natural for the Chinese people to feel frustrated; the Chinese people are entitled to express their feelings; they also attach great importance to national dignity; it’s not about nationalism but patriotism.”

More importantly, those enterprises have unconsciously deteriorated to a sacrifice in an economic and political game. Undoubtedly, some malicious western politicians together with some news media have been making every effort to disseminate false information in order to slander China for long. And those firms expected to please these politicians with power by boycotting Xinjiang cotton, only to find that they were harnessed in vicious, political competition. Believe it or not, after realising the aftermath of its shortsighted boycott, H&M remarked in another statement last Wednesday that it was “dedicated to regaining trust” in China. The firm said it is doing all it can with all major stakeholders to find solutions to the existing problems. However, those brands have not gained what they reaped from those politicians, but instead are facing a backlash in China whether virtually and physically. That is the aggravating chain reaction far from their manoeuvre and expectation.

Based on the retail giants resistant campaigns and the consequences engendered, I may as well quote a famous motto in John. F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address as saying that “united, there is little we can do in a host of co-operative venture; divided, there is little we can do for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.”

the 35th US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the inaugural address on 20th January, 1961