Zara Facing Consumer Backlash From Mainland China Over Hong Kong Protests

Controversy has struck the Spanish retailer Zara in China after the company decided to keep some of its stores closed in Hong Kong when the island city was expected ot experience violence because of the pro democracy protests.

A call for the boycott of the company has been given by thousands of Chinese on social media as they accused the retailer of supporting the employees who ostensibly wanted ot joint the demonstrations.

In its defense, the retailing chain said that its intention was to ensure that its stores did not remain understaffed if there was a disruption in transportation. However that argument was not enough to quell the anger.

Pro democracy protests have been ongoing in Hong Kong for more than 13 weeks now against the growing influence of the Chinese government over the island city that was supposed ot have a different governing system than mainland China,

Several companies, those have been perceived to be supporting the pro democracy protests in Hong Kong in any way, have found themselves facing the anger of people from mainland China, because it is perceived that the protest in Hong Kong is seen as a challenge to the sovereignty of China.

On Monday, Zara had kept four stores in Hong Kong closed which was the beginning of the backlash against the company. It was also the day when about 10,000 pupils from 200 secondary schools were scheduled to boycott the first day of the new term as a symbol of support for the protests. And on the same day, the first of a two day strike was to begin in Hong Kong even though there was not much of an impact of the strike call eventually.

The picture and an article about the closure of a Zara store was published by Hong Kong-based newspaper Ming Pao and the report speculated whether the store was closed as a show of support of the company to the pro democracy protests.

This bit of news was soon circulated widely through Weibo, wherein the users assumed that the company had closed stores to support the strike which led to the call for the boycott.

A quick statement on its official Weibo page was soon posted by the Zara – which is owned by parent company Inditex, wherein the company clarified that it had “never been involved in any strike”. The company said that it supported the “One country, two systems” model which makes Hong Kong to be a part of China. However this was not enough to stem the anger.

The hashtag #ZaraStatement went viral on Weibo with more than 330 million views and manyof the users called the statement insincere.

“This is really perfunctory. If you really want to sincerely talk about it, say it in a [proper] way. If you’re not sincere, don’t say anything,” said one typical comment on Weibo.

Western companies and brands having to face a consumer backlash in China is not uncommon and when put in such situations, companies general take help of long apologetic statements to find a way out. In the case of Zara however, a large number of social media users in China felt that the statement for the Zara was an overt apology.

(Adapted from BBC.com)

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