Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Beijing — At least one Chinese online retailer appeared to drop H&M’s products amid social media attacks on the Swedish company for saying it was “deeply concerned” about reports of forced labour in the far western region of Xinjiang.

On Monday, the EU, US, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials accusing them of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. China retaliated with sanctions on European lawmakers and institutions.

H&M has previously said in a statement it is “deeply concerned by reports from civil society organisations and media that include accusations of forced labour” and that it does not source products from Xinjiang.

Activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labour and sterilisations of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. China denies the accusations, saying it is providing vocational training and that its measures are needed to fight extremism.

It was not immediately clear why an old statement from H&M, which media reported in 2020, about the cotton-producing region was back in the public eye.

H&M’s official store on Alibaba’s Tmall, an e-commerce platform, was not accessible on Wednesday. The official People’s Daily reported that searches for H&M products on platforms JD.com and Pinduoduo no longer showed any results. It is not known if such products were previously available.

Alibaba, JD.com, and Pinduoduo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China is H&M’s fourth-biggest market with sales of 2.9-billion Swedish krona ($339m) in the 12 months to end-November 2020.

“Spreading rumours to boycott Xinjiang cotton, while also wanting to make money in China? Wishful thinking!” the Communist Youth League, the youth wing of China’s ruling party, said in a post on the Weibo social media platform.

In another post, the league referred to remarks made by China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi at a combative meeting with his US counterparts last week in Alaska, where, referring to various US actions, he said the Chinese people “won’t swallow this”.

Actor Huang Xuan said on his official Weibo social media page that he has terminated his contract as a representative for H&M, saying he opposed “slander and creating rumours”.

H&M also said in its original statement it would phase out its relationship with a Chinese supplier accused of forced labour.

A graphic in a commentary from the official CCTV that slammed the company for its stance said “H&M you are no longer at all fashionable”.

Some people on Weibo called for H&M to leave China and for a boycott. “It is so shameless to smear Xinjiang and we don’t buy your products,” one person said.

H&M declined to comment.

The editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper Hu Xijin urged Western companies to be “highly cautious” and not to “suppress China’s Xinjiang”. To do so, he said in a post, would “undoubtedly arouse the anger of the Chinese public”. 

Reuters

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