Burberry faces backlash in China as shoppers boycott Western brands over forced labour claims

Zhou Dongyu in Burberry
Zhou Dongyu in Burberry

Burberry has lost its Chinese brand ambassador and has been deleted from a Chinese video game as consumers in the country boycott Western brands over accusations of forced labour in the Xinjiang-based cotton industry.

While Burberry has made no public statement condemning reports of exploitation of Uighur Muslims within the Xinjiang province’s cotton production process, it has said that it does not source cotton from that region and is a member of the Better Cotton Initiative.

This appears to have been enough to convince Chinese consumers to boycott the brand, along with other Western brands, and for its ambassador, the actress Zhou Dongyu, to stand down from the brand.

Dongyu, who is a highly successful and high profile figure in the country, said the British luxury house had not “clearly and publicly stated its stance on cotton from Xinjiang”.

Virtual Burberry outfits that had appeared in the Honor of Kings video game have also been deleted, it has been claimed.

Burberry is not alone in having been targeted with H&M, Nike and Adidas all having been targeted for stating they do not source cotton from Xinjiang, following claims of human rights abuses in the province.

Other brands have been trying to tread a fine line of condemning any potential breach of human rights in the province, while also saying they will continue to support the Xinjiang’s cotton industry in a bid to keep Chinese consumers onside.

Chinese consumers have hit out at foreign governments and brands for circulating what they claim are lies and misinformation about what is happening to Uighur Muslims in the region with reports of detention camps and forced labour.

A backlash in China is particularly problematic for luxury brands and for Burberry, which generates around 40% of its sales from China. Following an initial wobble in its share price today, Burberry’s share closed just 0.13% down at 1,899.5p.

Earlier this week Britain and the EU took joint action with the US and Canada to impose sanctions on senior Chinese officials who it is claimed are involved in the mass internment of Uighur Muslims in province. China has retaliated with sanctions on 10 UK organisations and individuals, including the former leader of the Conservative party Iain Duncan Smith.