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Fila stays silent after Chinese unit vows to continue using Xinjiang cotton

Major shoe brand refuses to chime in on ongoing human rights issue involving its supply chain

One of Fila’s flagship stores in Myeong-dong, Seoul (Fila Korea)
One of Fila’s flagship stores in Myeong-dong, Seoul (Fila Korea)
Fila Korea is staying silent on the ongoing controversy surrounding Xinjiang cotton after its Chinese unit vowed to continue using the fabric.

When asked about Fila China’s statement on Chinese social media platform Weibo last week confirming its support for Xinjiang cotton, a representative of the company acknowledged the existence of backlash but refused to comment.

In a statement on Weibo last week, FILA China said it “has always purchased and used cotton produced in China including that from the Xinjiang region.”

Fila Holdings racked up 3.12 trillion won in sales in 2020. It boasts directly owned businesses such as Fila Korea and Fila USA, as well as indirect businesses including Fila Licensee and Full Prospect, according to a 2020 report for investors.

Fila Korea owns 15 percent shares in Full Prospect, a joint venture with China’s multinational sports equipment corporation Anta Sports, which owns and manages the brand’s trademarks in Hong Kong, Macao and mainland China.

Fila Korea receives 3 percent of its wholesale revenue as a “design service fee.”

One industry source who wished to stay anonymous said, however, that Anta Sports made “most of the management including major marketing decisions.”

But despite its global outreach, typified by its 2020 advertisement slogan “One World, One FILA,” its stance on the issue of Xinjiang cotton remains ambiguous.

Human rights activists say Xinjiang cotton is a product of forced labor. The accusations go against Fila Holdings Corp.’s principles, set out in a statement issued by Fila Group in November last year.

“Our focus on ensuring that forced labor does not occur in our supply chain extends beyond the manufacture of finished goods branded with our trademark,” the statement read.

“We believe that ending forced labor must be a priority for the entire apparel and footwear industries globally,” it added.

Global fashion brands such as H&M and Nike have suffered a major backlash in China in recent days after expressing concerns over the use of Xinjiang cotton.

H&M, which has become the main target of the boycott, has reportedly been erased from major apps in China, including Apple Maps.

In 2017, South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group became the target of economic retaliation in China over the country’s decision to deploy the US-built anti-missile defense system known as THAAD.

Having once boasted over 100 Lotte Mart stores in China, the company was forced to close its supermarket business altogether by the end of 2018.

This is also not the first time Fila Korea and Fila China have taken different approaches to marketing.

In October RM, a member of K-pop group BTS, who is also Fila’s global ambassador, mentioned the Korean War as the group received an award for its contributions to South Korea-US relations from the US-based nonprofit organization The Korea Society.

“We will always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared together and the sacrifice of countless men and women,” the leader of the group said.

The remark, however, did not go down well in China, a country that also fought in the Korean War but on North Korea’s side, with the state-owned daily tabloid Global Times branding the acceptance speech as reflecting a “one-sided attitude.”

Following the backlash, Fila China’s online content featuring BTS was taken down.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)
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