Lancôme, the luxury skincare brand owned by L’Oréal, has been accused of bowing to Chinese political pressure after it dropped a Hong Kong singer from a local marketing campaign following an outcry in Chinese state media.
Denise Ho, an outspoken performer who took part in Hong Kong’s Occupy protests in 2014 and this year posted pictures of herself with the Dalai Lama, had been due to perform at a promotional event later this month.
But on Sunday the company scratched the performance after the Global Times, a state-run nationalist tabloid, condemned it for inviting her.
In a post to its 4m followers on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, the newspaper lambasted the beauty brand for inviting a singer “who supports Hong Kong independence and endorses the ringleader of Tibet independence“ to be a spokesperson at their event.
In separate statements on Sunday, Lancôme clarified that Ms Ho was not the brand’s spokesperson and said it had called off her “Energising Factory Event“ because of “possible safety reasons“.
Lancôme Hong Kong said on Monday it had no further comment.
The move prompted a strong rebuke from Ms Ho, who said on Facebook that the brand’s cancellation and statements had “misled the public and jeopardised my personal reputation“, while engaging in “self-censorship“ and kneeling down “to a bullying hegemony“.
Ms Ho has long been known locally for her anti-Beijing stance. In 2014 she was arrested by Hong Kong police as they cleared the main protest site in the city’s pro-democracy Occupy protests, which brought key parts of the city to a standstill for almost three months.
In May, Ms Ho posted a picture to Facebook of herself with the Dalai Lama, who she referred to as “my most respected teacher“.
China’s leaders revile the Tibetan spiritual leader as a “splittist“ and a “wolf in monk’s robes“, and accuse him of advocating independence for the province from his base in neighbouring India.
The Chinese government regularly bans artists, academics and political leaders from going to China if they are seen as supportive of the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan independence movement.
Last year US rock band Bon Jovi had its first Chinese concerts summarily cancelled after officials learnt that a picture of the Dalai Lama had figured in a video backdrop five years earlier.
L’Oréal counts China as its second-biggest market by sales. Lancôme’s move prompted online threats of a boycott from consumers both in mainland China and Hong Kong, with thousands of angry comments posted to Lancôme Hong Kong’s official Facebook page.
“I am going to tell all my friends, as well as I myself, to boycott all products from Lancôme,“ wrote Yvonne Tong.
Listerine, a mouthwash brand owned by Johnson&Johnson that uses Ms Ho in its Hong Kong marketing campaigns, was also criticised by the Global Times. As of Monday evening local time, the company, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, continued to feature the singer on its website.
强生(Johnson & Johnson)旗下的漱口水品牌李施德林(Listerine)在其香港推广活动中邀请了何韵诗，该品牌也遭到《环球时报》的批评。截至当地时间周一晚，该公司网站继续使用何韵诗的照片。该公司未立即回应记者提出的置评请求。