BEIJING (Reuters) – Anger at Nike Inc erupted on Chinese social media late Wednesday after Chinese netizens saw a statement from the sporting goods giant saying it was “concerned” about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang. and that it does not use cotton from the region.
Topics surrounding Nike’s statement were among the highest trends on Weibo social media, similar to Twitter in China, on Thursday, and the social media backlash had broader consequences.
Popular Chinese actor Wang Yibo terminated his contract as a Nike representative in response to criticism from social media about the company’s statement in Xinjiang, his agency said on Weibo on Thursday.
It was unclear when Nike released the statement, which was undated. Nike did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We are concerned about the reports of forced labor in and related to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR),” Nike said in the statement.
“Nike does not source XUAR products and we have confirmed with our contracted suppliers that they are not using textiles or yarns from the region.”
The fallout from social media comes as relations between the United States and China have deteriorated in recent years.
In the latest development, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials on Monday for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. China retaliated with sanctions against European legislators and institutions.
Earlier this week, at least one Chinese online retailer appeared to abandon H&M products amid social media attacks on the Swedish company for saying it was “deeply concerned” by reports of forced labor in Xinjiang.
Activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labor and sterilizations in Xinjiang. China has denied these claims, saying that it is providing professional training and that its measures are necessary to fight extremism.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper, urged Western companies on Wednesday to be “very cautious” and not to “suppress China’s Xinjiang” in a social media post.
Doing so “would undoubtedly arouse the ire of the Chinese public,” he added. No company was highlighted.
Reporting by Ryan Woo; Edited by Ana Nicolaci da Costa