This article elaborates on the Xinjiang Cotton Controversy that has occurred in the past month.
Last month, Australian Olympic uniform supplier, the Japanese brand ASICS, came under the spotlight due to allegations of sourcing the uniforms’ cotton from Xinjiang province in China. A social media post by ASICS claimed to source its cotton from Xinjiang. However, the company publicly denied sourcing its cotton from Xinjiang and the Australian Olympic Committee backed that claim.
What’s the big deal about using Xinjiang cotton, though?
Xinjiang Cotton: About Me
Xinjiang is an autonomous province in northwest China which homes numerous ethnic minorities, including the Turkic Uyghur individuals. Xinjiang cotton is probably the best texture on the planet and records 85 per cent of the Chinese cotton creation and 20 per cent of the world stockpile. However, the problem in its use rests not in the cotton itself but in the way it is procured.
A number of international media platforms have claimed increasingly that the ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been forced to work in indentured labour camps for years with minimal pay. They are housed in camps where charges of torment, constrained work, and sexual maltreatment have arisen. Essentially, the manufacturing industry based in Xinjiang is a human rights violation.
The reports regarding the confinement of Uyghurs were being published for a significant long time (around 5-6 years), but obliviousness of people and censorship by the Chinese government has on its media and web kept the things low key.
However, in September 2020, screenshots from a statement posted by the fast-fashion brand H&M citing “deep concerns” about reports of forced labour in Xinjiang and affirming that it refused to buy cotton from that region began circulating on Chinese web-based media.
The aftermath was fast and furious. There were calls for a boycott, and H&M products were soon missing from China’s most popular e-commerce platforms, Alibaba Group’s Tmall and JD.com. In no time, other big Western brands like Nike and Burberry began trending for the same reason.
Following these accusations, former US President Donald Trump restricted all imports of cotton from the Xinjiang region, as well as products made from the material. Multiple American brands had cancelled orders as stated by Huafu Fashion, the Chinese cotton yarn maker.
Additionally, Britain, Canada, the European Union and the United States have also announced sanctions on Chinese officials over the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
On the other hand, Pakistan cotton export and import bodies have declared to proceed with cotton exchange with China particularly from Xinjiang, excusing every one of the allegations and assents forced by the western nations.
China has denied the charges of human rights violations, saying the camps are “re-training” offices aimed at lifting Uyghurs out of impoverishment and that such measures are necessary to combat extremism and terrorism. It has also counterattacked by saying that these allegations are being made for political purposes. However, an investigation by BBC shows that China was compelling a huge number of minorities including Uyghurs into physical work for Xinjiang’s cotton fields.
After the United States declared sanctions on Chinese officials, China promised to fight back with equal measures against organisations and individuals critical of its policies in Xinjiang.
“In response to the wrongful move by the US, China has decided to take reciprocal action against institutions and individuals who have acted egregiously on Xinjiang affairs.”– Zhao Lijian, Spokesman, Foreign Ministry, China
When asked about the measures that China would take, Zhao responded “the details will be out soon.”
The Chinese foreign ministry also stated that the government is determined to protect the “national sovereignty, security and development interests” and urged the “relevant parties” to “clearly understand the situation and re-dress their mistake.”
Reaction in China
As big international brands became embroiled in the controversy, many Chinese celebrities have chosen to distance themselves from these brands by boycotting them or even resigning as their brand ambassadors mid-contract, despite the heavy cost associated with it. Chinese idol Wang Yibo ended his contract with Nike a day after Nike’s official statement about not using Xinjiang cotton in its products, according to the statement released by Yuehua Entertainment on Weibo. Wang Yibo’s posts on Instagram promoting Nike products have also disappeared.
Wang Ka-Yee, more popularly known as Jackson Wang, a member of K-pop boy band GOT7, also ended his association with Adidas Originals line that had started in 2018.
This list also includes Victory Song, a member of the girl group f(x) and brand ambassador of H&M since 2020, who cut ties with the fast-fashion company; Lay Zhang from the popular band EXO who also ended his partnership with Converse and Calvin Klein under similar allegations as declared by his studio on Weibo; and Huang Zitao, another EXO member, who decided to separate from Lacoste.
Weibo became a big platform for celebrities to support Xinjiang cotton. Popular Chinese actors Xiao Zhan, whose rise to fame is associated with the series The Untamed, and Hu Ge, whose significant works includes Nirvana in Fire and The Wild Goose Lake, shared this on their Weibo accounts:
The Hanzi reads “#ISupportXinjiangCotton” and, according to People’s Daily, this hashtag page on Weibo has been viewed over 6 billion times.
Due to idol culture in China, the way these idols have responded to this controversy has also determined the reactions of their Chinese fans. Many have come out in support of their decision to stand behind Xinjiang cotton, thereby automatically backing the Chinese government.
Citizens and Netizens
Chinese people are expressing love for their country by supporting their indigenous cotton regardless of the allegations that were put up by other countries. Under a developing sentiment of dissatisfaction and disappointment of Chinese clients with western brands that made unmerited allegations on Xinjiang, harsh words including “all foreign companies must get out of China” and “Chinese shouldn’t utilise foreign items” occasionally occurred on social media.
Annoyed Chinese netizens have also started boycotting H&M and Nike, among other big Western clothing brands because of their statements on Xinjiang and its cotton.
Some netizens of China also dispatched a mission promoting the specialities and lovely landscape of northwest China’s Xinjiang via web-based media.
According to a report, hashtags tempting people to buy Xinjiang goods had been viewed 27.73 million times on approximately 19,000 posts on Chinese media platforms.
Certain popular variety shows in China have also started taking a stand against Western brands that do not use Xinjiang cotton. In a recently released episode, Chuang 2021, that claims Amber Liu, Zhou Zhennan, and Zhou Shen as mentors, blurred out Western brand logos.
It is very clear from the claims and news that are coming up about the abuse of minority communities in China that there is surely something off. An official investigation is much needed to dispel any false claims by any party, which must be followed by appropriate action. As China’s immediate neighbours, we need to take a strong stance against human rights violations after such an official investigation as well.
Read about the controversy regarding Tandav and the freedom of expression here.
Article by Ifzan Malik, Team ulaunch.