German clothing giant Hugo Boss has been accused of hypocrisy in China after it issued contradictory statements about the allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang which have sparked a boycott of foreign brands.
Major clothing brands recently came under fire in China, sparking calls for a boycott, for saying they would stop using cotton from the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region, populated by Uighurs, China’s ethnic Muslim minority.
Western nations and global human rights groups have accused Beijing of placing Uighurs in internment camps and subjecting them to forced labor. China denies these allegations, insisting that Uighurs attend vocational education and training centers as part of a de-radicalization program that helps integrate them into society.
The Chinese subsidiary of Hugo Boss apparently went against the company’s headquarters in Germany when it wrote in Chinese on Weibo, the country’s equivalent of Twitter, that it would “continue to buy and support Xinjiang cotton,” hailing the material as one of the best in the world.
Hugo Boss’ main office, meanwhile, issued a statement condemning forced labor and noting that it has “so far” not procured “any goods” originating in Xinjiang. The brand further explained that the Weibo post had been deleted because it was unauthorized, according to Reuters. On Saturday, the brand’s Weibo account issued a new statement saying that it valued all longstanding relations with partners in China.
The company’s mixed messaging led to ridicule and accusations of being “two-faced” on Chinese social media, according to the South China Morning Post. Several celebrities, including actor Li Yifeng, announced that they were ending their relationship with the German brand.
Hugo Boss was not the first international company to demonstrate multiple conflicting stances amid the Xinjiang controversy. Italian sportswear giant Fila spoke out against forced labor and promised to review its business practices in China. However, its Chinese subsidiary cut ties with an NGO that was campaigning to stop buying cotton from Xinjiang and said that it has always used cotton from the region, according to Fortune.
Chinese internet users called for the boycott of other brands, like H&M and Nike, for their past and recent statements on Xinjiang. Following the backlash, H&M – which is based in Sweden and said it was “deeply concerned” by the allegations of forced labor – has been removed from Chinese e-commerce platforms, plus shop-listing and map apps.
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