Lancome shuts Hong Kong shops as 'kowtow' controversy grows

AP News
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Posted: Jun 08, 2016 5:37 AM
Lancome shuts Hong Kong shops as 'kowtow' controversy grows

HONG KONG (AP) — Cosmetics maker Lancome shut all its Hong Kong shops on Wednesday as protesters accused the cosmetics brand of kowtowing to Beijing when it scrapped a promotional event featuring an activist singer.

The company sparked a furious backlash earlier this week in Hong Kong with its cancellation of the mini-concert by Denise Ho, who's known for her support of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement and Tibet, both causes that irritate China's communist leaders.

Lancome's move apparently was in response to criticism by the Chinese nationalist newspaper Global Times, which triggered internet calls to boycott the brand in mainland China.

Several dozen protesters marched to an unstaffed Lancome counter in a downtown Hong Kong department store Tuesday. They taped up signs accusing the company of self-censorship and of kowtowing to Beijing and called for a boycott.

Hong Kong's 23 Lancome boutiques were closed for the day and it was uncertain whether they would reopen on Thursday, which is a public holiday, a customer service representative said by phone.

Lancome and its parent company, French cosmetics giant L'Oreal, did not respond to emailed requests for comment. Shops under at least four other L'Oreal brands, including Kiehl's and The Body Shop, were also shut.

Ho said in an interview that she was shocked that a multinational brand "would succumb to internet bullying and also obvious political pressure."

"This is not only about me and the brand," said Ho. "It's about the whole situation in Hong Kong where everyone is being suppressed and everyone is living in some kind of a 'white terror' that we cannot speak out publicly about anything concerning the Chinese government."

Ho is the latest performing artist to run afoul of Beijing, which has been intensifying a campaign to quash dissent at home and abroad. Last year, concerts by Bon Jovi and Maroon 5 were cancelled in China, reportedly over tweets or pictures of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

The Chinese market's huge importance for Lancome and other foreign companies is complicating efforts to balance profit with principle. China become L'Oreal's second biggest market last year, behind the U.S. and ahead of France, according to its latest annual report. It said Hong Kong was a "difficult" market.