In China, Hugo Boss faces an influencer revolt

March 29, 2021, 5:28 AM UTC

Hugo Boss AG 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 won’t use cotton produced in the region of Xinjiang over concerns it’s made with forced labor by Muslim-minority Uyghurs.

Li Yifeng, an actor and singer who has more than 60 million followers on his personal Weibo account, has ended all cooperation 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 U.S. accused China of waging a state-run social media campaign to boycott companies that refuse to use cotton from Xinjiang. The U.S. has brought sanctions against Chinese officials after accusing the government of forcibly sending more than 1 million Uyghurs and other minorities to “re-education” camps, allegations that Beijing denies.

U.S. and European retail brands including Nike Inc. and Inditex SA’s Zara are also weighing whether to use Xinjiang cotton or risk being boycotted in the world’s second-biggest economy. Hennes & Mauritz AB stores in some 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 unauthorized and has now been deleted, a spokeswoman fro Hugo Boss said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

In a separate statement currently posted to its website, Hugo Boss said the company does not tolerate forced labor 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 Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority of mostly Sunni Muslims with close cultural ties to Central Asia. They have long claimed that their culture was under threat from the surging number of ethnic Chinese moving to live in Xinjiang. Tension between the groups has spilled into periodic violence and a Uyghur separatist movement has developed in the region.

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