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The difficult limit of the duty of transparency

Cristina D’Agostino

By Cristina D’Agostino01 avril 2021

Are global strategies, designed to correspond to the greatest number of people, to care for the general interest, to carry universal values, while serving the interests of a brand still possible today? What the giant H&M was recently confronted with in China raises this question.

After some global brands such as H&M, but also Burberry or Nike expressed their concerns about the respect of human rights in relation to the production of cotton from the Xinjiang region in China, significant commercial sanctions were put in place on Chinese online sales platforms. H&M was immediately deleted from digital retail giants Taobao, Tmall and JD.com, Burburry saw its partnership with the video game "Honor of Kings" suspended by Chinese digital entertainment Tencent, as did Nike, which was banned overnight from "League of Legends". In this case, partisan and nationalistic sensitivities have largely swept aside the societal commitments that brands must make in order to engage with the younger and older generations and hope to conquer those consumers who are increasingly sensitive to ethical issues.

In this case, boycotts and state interference have mainly hit via digital, but it is also on digital that the greatest stakes in luxury are played out. It is also via digital that brands are making their commitment known and revealing the authenticity of their social responsibility policy. Transparency is the major challenge of digital. Contradictions are made immediately visible and can ruin a reputation
In the case of the controversy over cotton from Xinjiang, some brands did not hesitate to discreetly erase their statement against forced labour. This is the case of the Inditex group, the parent company of Zara among others. Since then, the statement has not been found, but screenshots are circulating. And criticism is growing.

The pandemic context and its partisan tensions, accentuated by the growing inequalities and the lack of a common vision on a global scale, are finally undermining the momentum. But it is obvious that the duty of transparency is questioned in its limits. A global duty of transparency on societal commitments will inevitably offend political and cultural sensitivities. The key is to know, as the Coalition against Forced Labour says, that "putting human rights above profit has a price".

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