Global apparel brands tangled in Xinjiang cotton conundrum

The likes of H&M and Inditex are being forced to choose between Western markets and the China market

H&M is among apparel brands whose renouncement of Xinjiang cotton has angered Chinese consumers. PHOTO: REUTERS

(NYTIMES) - Faced with accusations that it was profiting from the forced labour of Uighur people in Xinjiang, H&M Group - the world's second-largest clothing retailer - promised last year to stop buying cotton from the region. But last month, H&M confronted a new outcry, this time from Chinese consumers who seized on its renouncement of the cotton as an attack on China. Social media filled with angry demands for a boycott, urged on by the government. Global brands like H&M risked alienating a country of 1.4 billion people.

The furore underscored how international clothing brands relying on Chinese materials and factories now face the mother of all conundrums - a conflict vastly more complex than their now-familiar reputational crises over exploitative working conditions in poor countries.

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