BOYCOTTS OF FOREIGN brands are so common in China that managers have a ready-made playbook when caught in a storm of nationalist outrage. Start with an apology. Then stay mostly quiet, perhaps expressing respect for Chinese culture. Wait for the anger to subside. Over the past week the list of companies consulting the manual has grown. Chinese consumers, egged on by the ruling Communist Party, vowed to shun some of the world’s biggest clothing companies, from Adidas to Zara.

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In the eyes of the boycotters, the firms erred by declaring concern over allegations that China’s cotton industry includes the forced labour

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