A campaign to boycott French firms in China appears to be gathering steam, with thousands of text messages sent out to encourage Chinese citizens not to shop at French supermarket chain Carrefour. Other companies targeted include the luxury goods firm LVMH, and cosmetics company L’Oréal.
Protests against the Olympic torch when it passed through Paris, and the refusal by president Nicolas Sarkozy to rule out a boycott of the opening ceremony have angered many Chinese people.
Several French newspapers carried anxious headlines on Tuesday, fearing that French economic interests in China were ‘under threat’ because of the boycott.
Carrefour potentially has the most to lose: The supermarket giant has more than 100 hypermarkets in China, and there have already been demonstrations outside some of its stores. It has also been accused of financing the campaign for Tibetan independence, something which the company strenuously denies.
L’Oréal, meanwhile, has come under fire because its subsidiary, the Body Shop, promoted a tour of Australia by the Dalai Lama in 2007.
All potentially worrying stuff for French firms, but the true impact of such a boycott, if in fact it occurs, should not be overstated. However many thousands of angry comments may have been posted on Chinese blogs and message boards in the last few weeks, it’s still not a reliable gauge of public feeling in a nation of more than 1.3 billion people.
Moreover, as our Beijing correspondent Henry Morton points out, there were similar calls for a boycott of Japanese goods in 2005 after the then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi insisted on visiting a controversial war shrine. In the event, it had no noticeable effect on the balance sheet of Japanese firms. It’s something French business leaders might want to bear in mind in the run up to Beijing 2008.