Following the first joint EU, U.K., and U.S. condemnation and sanctions against China’s human right violations against the Xinjiang Muslim Uygur community, China has retaliated with sanctions against foreign institutions and brands. Of the many brands involved are Nike and Adidas who have been blacklisted from major Chinese groups. The brands are all associated with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) – a non-profit group promoting sustainable cotton production. In October the group suspended approval of cotton sourced from the region citing human rights concerns.
With tensions consistently escalating between China and the West, China has failed to demonstrate a change in their governance of the Uygur Muslims who have been subject to various ongoing human rights abuses. The criticism aimed at the Chinese government by Western brands, and their joint support for the BCI, has led to their expulsion from government controlled domains.
Dewu, formerly Poizon, is a leading lifestyle and sneaker application in China, operating as a sneaker marketplace and online fashion community. StockX recorded $1.8 billion in gross merchandise value in 2020 whereas Dewu reported $10 billion. In the midst of this crisis, Dewu has stated that it immediately and indefinitely has removed and suspended trading for all Nike products on the application.
Not only has Dewu cut off Nike, but major Chinese personalities and influencers have also distanced themselves and cancelled contracts. According to Yahoo!, Adidas has deals with far more celebrities in China than Nike, and they too have terminated their working relationship with the brand. In addition to Nike and Adidas, other major footwear brands with annulled celebrity endorsements include Converse, Puma, and New Balance. Burberry is also involved through their virtual costume collaboration with Tencent’s “Honor of Kings” video game making it the first luxury brand caught up. All of these brands are aligned with the BCI.
On the other hand, Chinese sportswear giant Anta, which also owns FILA China and Arc’teryx China, announced that it was leaving the BCI following the organisations criticism aimed at the treatment of the regions population who are forced into labour. They maintain that they always have, and always will, use cotton from these regions. China’s Ministry of Commerce said in an official statement that “companies involved should avoid politicising business issues.” Anta Sports and Li Ning shares surged following the news whilst Adidas, Nike, and Inditex fell.
This is only one small sliver of a much larger and deep rooted socio-political issue, but does raise many questions which are left unanswered, and often forgotten about in communities which are even further down and farther removed from the supply chain.
“Brands must not rescind on 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 Labour in the Uighur Region.