Why shouldn't we boycott Chinese products?

A young woman is standing in the middle of a Chinese shopping mall and is holding a protest sign in her hands. She wants to express her anger: Boycott, now! What seems like an extraordinary act of resistance in the heavily controlled China is politically wanted even by the highest authorities. On Wednesday, the youth organization of the Communist Party and the Chinese army themselves launched the boycott campaign, which is directed against international clothing manufacturers with the support of the state media.

The Swedish clothing chain H&M was first targeted after Internet users shared an undated announcement by the company that it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang in order to avoid possible forced labor. As a result, Zorn also hit other western brands, above all the US sporting goods brands Nike and New Balance, as well as the German manufacturers Adidas and Puma.

It was "deeply concerned about reports from civil society organizations and the media, including allegations of forced labor and discrimination against ethno-religious minorities," the H&M statement said. The KP youth association responded with a threat. "Wanting to earn money in China while spreading false rumors and boycotting cotton from Xinjiang? Wishful thinking!" Wrote the organization in a blog post on the social network Weibo. The People's Liberation Army called H&M "ignorant" and "arrogant".

In the Xinjiang region, where more than a million people have been interned in camps according to the United Nations, around 85 percent of Chinese cotton is grown. More than a fifth of global production. Government documents in 2020 suggested that much of the cotton would be forcibly picked by Muslim workers, especially Uyghurs. Numerous companies, as well as the Better Cotton initiative, of which H&M and Adidas are founding members, had reacted and announced that they would review their supply chains and stop using cotton from the region.

The state-orchestrated escalation, which Beijing started with some delay, indicates that the regime is likely to feel the growing international pressure on human rights issues. The timing shouldn't be a coincidence. On Monday, the foreign ministers of the 27 EU member states, coordinated with Great Britain, the USA and Canada, imposed sanctions against four authorities and party representatives, as well as an institution in Xinjiang. They are all held responsible for human rights abuses.

On the same day, Beijing reacted unusually harshly and sanctioned the well-known Xinjiang researcher Adrian Zenz, eight MPs, another scientist and four institutions from EU countries. Within Europe, the measures were described as "incomprehensible" and "disproportionate". Several European countries called in the ambassadors of China.

Along with this, the protest began in China. After the criticism of the KP youth organization, thousands of Chinese users joined the network and attacked H&M online. Some people also protested in stores and posted videos of them on the net. The well-known advertising faces, the singer Victoria Song and the actor Huang Xiang, announced that they would no longer work with H&M. Actor Wang Yibo distanced himself from Nike, stating that he would always oppose behavior that would shame China.

Chinese clothing companies such as Anta Sports Products and Hongxing Erke Sports Products announced in turn that they expressly want to continue to source cotton from the region. As a result, the company's share value rose rapidly. "We cannot accept that any forces pollute or shame the pure and pristine cotton from Xinjiang," a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce said on Thursday. "Chinese consumers reacted to the so-called business decision made by some companies on the basis of false information. We hope that such companies will respect the laws of the market, correct wrong practices and avoid politicizing commercial problems."

Beijing tries longer to silence companies

The decision of the major online retailers in the country to remove all of the manufacturers' goods from their platforms is also likely to have consequences. Because, especially for the sporting goods industry, China is the most dynamic growth market. An Adidas spokeswoman did not want to comment on the boycott calls in China on Thursday, and Puma did not respond to a request. Adidas expects growth in China between 20 and 30 percent in 2021; In 2020, the group generated a third of its sales, a total of 6.5 billion euros, in Asia, mainly in China. The country is also of enormous importance for Nike, Puma and other sporting goods manufacturers. In the foreseeable future, China will replace North America as the largest sporting goods market. In addition, a large part of the sports shoes and textiles sold worldwide are manufactured in China.

The European market leader Adidas does not purchase any yarn from the Xinjiang region and never had it produced there. The company from the Franconian town of Herzogenaurach has positioned itself against forced labor and prison labor several times in the past and insists on corresponding guarantees from its suppliers.

H&M, Nike, Adidas and Co. are not the first companies to feel Beijing's anger. The leadership there has been using its market power for several years to silence companies and entire states. When Australia called for an independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus in 2020, Beijing imposed economic sanctions on the country. The neighbors Japan and South Korea are also repeatedly hit by violent boycotts.

China has changed its defense strategy several times when dealing with the allegations in Xinjiang. While it initially denied the existence of any camps, it later declared that it was a question of training centers where suddenly all "trainees" had graduated. Recently, state media have been referring to human rights violations and historical injustice in other countries. China's state media published this week Global Times an overview by listing, among other things, the Holocaust, violence against women and inadequate Corona protection measures in refugee homes as a reaction to the EU sanctions under the heading "Evil deeds of the EU in relation to human rights".