“The moon isn’t rounder in foreign countries, and foreign down jackets aren’t any warmer either”.
That’s what the Beijing-based Economic Times claimed earlier this month in support of a fine of Rmb450,000 ($69,621) for parka maker Canada Goose for false advertising. The advertising that was penalised was the assertion that Canada Goose’s jackets “contain the finest and warmest Hutterite down”.
Shanghai’s market regulators took the view that this claim – made on the brand’s Tmall shop – was misleading because the provenance of the down alone is not an indicator of quality.
Hutterites are Anabaptist communities living on the Canadian central prairies. They reside in self-sufficient homesteads which are largely agricultural in nature. One of their most prized products is the finest feathers from the ducks and geese that roam the communities, typically growing to full size and often producing a longer, fluffier feather.
The authorities in Shanghai argue that just because some of the down in the Canada Goose jackets is Hutterite in origin, the company cannot guarantee the highest degree of “fill power” or the claims of the “warmest” fit that is made in the advertisements.
The company’s returns policy for faulty goods was also deemed to have violated Chinese law by tipping the balance too much in the company’s favour in the final decision on refunds, the Shanghai authorities said.
Despite the release of a detailed regulatory document in conjunction with the decision, international commentators have taken the view that the fine is politically-motivated. The context here is the long-running row over the arrest and subsequent extradition battle over Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou (see WiC435). The US wants to extradite Meng to New York, where she faces fraud charges.
Two Canadian citizens – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – were detained in China in December 2018, only a few days after Meng was arrested. Both were later accused of spying and Spavor was sentenced last month to 11 years in prison.
Chinese displeasure at Meng’s detention has triggered other responses. A ban on imports of Canadian canola seeds is widely believed to be another act of retaliation, while the case has also triggered calls from consumers to boycott purchases of Canada Goose apparel, forcing the company to delay the opening of its flagship store in Beijing.
Yet the Rmb450,000 fine could be part of another dynamic: a growing faith in domestic brands and a patriotic rejection of foreign labels (see our story on Erke in WiC552).
The movement sometimes known as ‘national hip’ or guochao, has led domestic shoppers to ditch overseas brands perceived to be critical of the Chinese government. Another target are companies perceived to grant Chinese consumers fewer rights or a lower standard of service than customers in other countries.
It is also true that the quality of Chinese branded goods has improved substantially in recent years – making it easier to swap more expensive foreign products for homegrown alternatives.
The shift away from international smartphone brands to domestic handsets made by the likes of Huawei and Xiaomi are good examples of this trend. Some young Chinese have also taken to calling out peers that still buy foreign brands rather than local ones. Similarly, companies in the entertainment sector have been taking a more patriotic line, responding to cues from state regulators to hire pro-China stars for TV series and films.
Hong Kong-born actor Nicholas Tse said this month that he was in the process of giving up his Canadian passport, although he did not confirm whether he had been asked directly to do so. “Whether it is food or music or action movies, no matter what kind of content or identity, I have always wanted to spread Chinese culture and spirit to the world,” he told state television in an effusive message .
In July Chen Feiyu, another actor, announced he too had renounced his US citizenship, saying he wanted to contribute to a “great motherland”. Other celebrities affected by the ‘second passport’ conundrum are thought to include: Jet Li, Zhang Tielin, Crystal Liu, Will Pan, Wang Lee-hom and Mark Chao.
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