Chinese TV shows censor foreign fashion brands as Xinjiang cotton row continues

Business & Technology

Whether in response to a state directive or as a pre-emptive move to avoid public outrage, Chinese streaming services have taken to blurring foreign brands that refused to use Xinjiang cotton. Where do nationalistic consumer boycotts go from here?

Illustration by Derek Zheng

For more than two weeks now, Chinese consumers have rallied around a state media-backed campaign to boycott foreign fashion brands — including H&M, Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Puma, Uniqlo, Calvin Klein, and Converse — for their avoidance of Xinjiang cotton due to forced labor allegations.

Chinese television shows have taken to blurring the logos of the most controversial foreign brands, as the boycotts have continued:

  • Youth With You 3, a Chinese boy group survival reality show on streaming service iQiyi, delayed the release of an episode without explanation early in the boycott. When the episode later aired, “more than 50 people” had Adidas logos blurred off their shirts, the BBC reports.
  • Two other popular TV shows, the stand-up comedy series, Roast, and entertainment reality show, Sisters Who Make Waves, turned the feet of contestants into “indiscernible blurs” to hide foreign-branded sneakers, per the New York Times.
  • It is unclear whether the censorship was state-directed or pre-emptive to avoid the television shows themselves becoming objects of online nationalistic scorn.

What next for national boycotts?

Several factors are converging to make further consumer boycotts centered around Xinjiang-related allegations a likely regular feature for the next year:

Taplin suggests that “if Chinese fashion companies struggle in the future to gain traction abroad or court top international athletes and celebrities because they are linked with ethnic internment camps, that is seen as a price worth paying to hold the line against any perception of successful foreign pressure on values.”

  • Could this soon apply to the NBA? The New York Times reports: “Lucrative endorsements deals with Chinese sports brands supporting Xinjiang cotton could pull the league and its athletes back into another geopolitical firestorm.”

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Correction: A previous version of this article grouped together MUJI and FILA as two brands that declared support for Xinjiang cotton. FILA should be noted separately, because it was not the entire Italian sportswear brand, but rather its China-based subsidiary owned by ANTA Sports that declared support for Xinjiang cotton.