Barcelona star parts ways with Huawei over treatment of Uighurs

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Antoine Griezmann of Barcelona celebrates with team mates after scoring their sides second goal during the La Liga Santander match between FC Barcelona and C.A. Osasuna at Camp Nou on November 29, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain
Photo: David Ramos/GETTY IMAGES

France and Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann has cut commercial ties with his long-time sponsor Huawei following accusations that the company's technology suppresses human rights of the Uighur ethnic group in China.

Griezmann has been a brand ambassador for Huawei since 2017 and has appeared in advertisements promoting the company's smartphones.

However, the 29-year-old is ending his sponsorship deal with Huawei after claims that the Chinese telecom giant was involved in the surveillance of the Uighur community.

In a report on Tuesday, US-based surveillance research firm IPVM claimed Huawei had been involved in the testing of facial recognition technology in China that the authorities could use to locate members of the Uighur ethnic group.

The World Cup winner posted a statement on Instagram explaining his move.

Following strong suspicions that the Huawei company has contributed to the development of a 'Uighur alert' thanks to facial recognition software, I am announcing the immediate termination of my partnership with the company.

I take this opportunity to invite Huawei to not just deny these accusations, but to take concrete actions as quickly as possible to condemn this mass repression, and to use its influence to contribute to the respect of human and women's rights in society.

Huawei has since responded to Griezmann's post.

Huawei is obviously saddened by the decision of Mr. Griezmann to end his relationship with the company.

We would like to extend an invitation to speak to him personally, to explain the work that is currently being done at the highest level, inside the company, to address the issues of human rights, equality, and discrimination at all levels, and to reassure him, and all our customers and partners, that Huawei takes these concerns very seriously.

The language used in the document he refers to in the news reports is completely unacceptable. It was not Huawei's language, rather descriptions of functions provided by the company Megvii. It is not compatible with the values of Huawei.

Our technologies are not designed to identify ethnic groups. Non-discrimination is at the heart of our values as a company.

Furthermore, the person responsible for approving the document was not a Huawei employee, but rather was a subcontractor. This mistake was three years ago. He was clearly not aligned with our company's values.

Since then the company has made substantial progress. Indeed, Huawei is a signatory to the UNGC which states 'businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights.'

China has faced a barrage of criticism over its treatment of the Uighur ethnic group.

In 2018, a BBC investigation revealed evidence that about more than a million Uighur were thought to have been detained in prison camps on the basis of their faith and ethnicity.

Reports earlier in the year also claimed children were being separated from their parents in the western region of Xinjiang, home to China's largest Uighur population.

Griezmann is not the only high-profile footballer to make a stand over the treatment of Uighurs.

Earlier this year, Arsenal player Mesut Özil criticised both China and those who remain silent in response to the alleged mistreatment.

After his comment, Özil was removed from China's version of the Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 video game, and Arsenal's next game against Manchester City was pulled out of TV schedules.

Meanwhile, Özil hasn't made an appearance for Arsenal since before the lockdown in March and was omitted from Arsenal's Premier League and Europa League squads this season.

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