A woman walks past a store of German fashion house Hugo Boss in Beijing, China, March 27 2021. Picture: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER
A woman walks past a store of German fashion house Hugo Boss in Beijing, China, March 27 2021. Picture: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER

Hugo Boss came under fire from Chinese celebrities over its stance on human rights in China, ensnaring the company in a growing boycott of Western firms who will not use the cotton produced in the Xinjiang region over concerns it has made with forced labour by Muslim-minority Uighurs.

Li Yifeng, an actor and singer who has more than 60-million followers on his personal Weibo account, has ended all co-operation with Hugo Boss, according to a post on his agent’s Weibo account. Zhu Zhengting and Wang Linkai, both popular singers, will also stop working with the German firm, their agents said on Weibo. Reuters reported earlier on their decisions.

The pressure on Hugo Boss comes after the US accused China of waging a state-run social media campaign to boycott companies that refuse to use cotton from Xinjiang. The US has brought sanctions against Chinese officials after accusing the government of forcibly sending more than 1-million Uighurs and other minorities to “re-education” camps, allegations that Beijing denies.

US and European retail brands including Nike and Inditex’s Zara are also weighing whether to use Xinjiang cotton or risk being boycotted in the world’s second-biggest economy. Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) stores in parts of China have been shuttered by their landlords after the company expressed concern about the situation in Xinjiang.

Hugo Boss initially appeared to try to appease Chinese concerns, posting on its Weibo account last week that it would “continue to purchase and support Xinjiang cotton”. That comment was unauthorised and has now been deleted, a spokesperson for Hugo Boss said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg.

In a separate statement posted to its website, Hugo Boss said the company does not tolerate forced labour and insists that its global suppliers follow suit. The company “has not procured any goods originating in the Xinjiang region from direct suppliers”, the company said in the statement.

The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority of mostly Sunni Muslims with close cultural ties to Central Asia. They have long complained that their culture was under threat from surging numbers of ethnic Chinese in Xinjiang. Tension between the groups has spilt over into violence and a Uighur separatist movement was active in the region.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has expanded a crackdown against the Uighurs, setting up camps the government refers to as “voluntary education centres” needed to purge “ideological diseases”.


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