Fast-fashion giant Zara said store closures in Hong Kong on Monday weren’t related to ongoing anti-Beijing protests in the city, after speculation on Chinese social media that the retailer’s employees were supporting the demonstrators.
“Zara has never made any comments or undertaken any actions related to a strike in Hong Kong,” the company said in a post on its Weibo account Monday. “Zara does not back a strike and supports ‘one country, two systems,”’ the post said, referring to a general strike called by unions as part of the protests, and China’s policy for governing Hong Kong.
The denial comes as multinational businesses become increasingly ensnared in the volatile conflict that’s morphed from a protest against an extradition law into a broader challenge to Beijing’s authority in the city. Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s biggest carrier, faced heavy pushback from China after its staff joined the demonstrations, while HSBC Holdings Plc to PwC, have been the subject of online speculation over their positions on the protests, which have rocked the former British colony for almost three months.
Zara, owned by Spanish fashion conglomerate Inditex SA, seems to have been targeted after Chinese social media users noticed several of its Hong Kong stores were closed on Monday. Speculation spread that it was because staffers were taking part in the general strike.
A company representative who answered Zara’s Hong Kong hotline on Tuesday confirmed that all of its stores on Hong Kong island were shut Monday, except one, but declined to give a reason for the closures. Most of Zara’s stores in Hong Kong’s Kowloon district were open on Monday, she said.
State-run tabloid Global Times said in an editorial Monday night Beijing time that regardless of the reason for its store closures, Zara should not “broadcast any suspicious signals like this at a time when Chinese society is being troubled” by the incidents in Hong Kong.
The newspaper’s English website said that the brand was facing a boycott by Chinese consumers due to the incident, but the topic was not among the top-trending among internet users on Weibo, a social media platform similar to Twitter, as of Tuesday morning.
A spokesperson for Inditex China didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.