People walk past an H&M store on Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street on March 24, 2021 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Wang Gang / VCG via Getty Images)
Wang Gang | Visual China Group | Getty Images
GUANGZHOU, China – Swedish clothing retailer H&M disappeared from major Chinese shopping sites and mapping apps after reports last year re-emerged over concerns about alleged forced labor in western China’s Xinjiang region.
A CNBC search for “H&M” and “hm” in English on Taobao, the Alibaba-operated e-commerce website, and JD.com returned no results. No results were displayed for the search term “H&M” in Alibaba’s own Amap map app or in Baidu Maps.
JD.com declined to comment when contacted by CNBC. Alibaba and Baidu were not immediately available for comment.
Xinjiang is home to the Uighur Muslims identified as an oppressed ethnic group by the United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, and others. In their first coordinated move in response to allegations of forced labor, the US, European Union, UK and Canada jointly imposed sanctions on Chinese officials this week for China’s alleged human rights abuses and abuses in Xinjiang.
H&M faced a backlash from Chinese users of the Twitter-like service Weibo, who responded to a re-surfaced statement from the retailer. Reuters said the statement was from last year. CNBC was unable to determine when the H&M statement was first published.
At the time, H&M said it was “deeply concerned about reports from civil society organizations and media containing allegations of forced labor,” according to Reuters in Xinjiang, a cotton-producing region. The company said it did not source any products from there.
This statement appears to have been removed from the Swedish retailer’s website. H&M was not immediately available for comment.
A joint US, UK and Canada statement earlier this week said the evidence of human rights abuses and abuses in Xinjiang “is overwhelming, including from the Chinese government’s own documents, satellite imagery and testimony.”
Countries cited forced labor as one of the features of “China’s extensive program of repression,” along with mass detention and forced sterilization.
China denies Xinjiang’s allegations
China has repeatedly denied allegations of forced labor and other abuses in Xinjiang. The government says facilities there that the US, UK, Canada and human rights groups have characterized as detention centers are in fact vocational training centers.
Asked at a press conference on Thursday whether the Ministry of Commerce had ordered e-commerce companies to ban companies like H&M, spokesman Gao Feng said, “With regard to the so-called business position of some companies on false information, Chinese consumers have already responded with real actions. “
“(We) hope that the relevant companies can obey the rules of the market, adjust their wrongdoing and avoid the politicization of business,” he said at the press event, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin language.
Gao added that foreign companies are allowed to conduct “normal operations” in China and invest and do business in Xinjiang.
It is unclear why the old H&M statement surfaced again. But on Wednesday, the Chinese Communist Youth League posted a screenshot of the statement on Weibo. The Post accused H&M of spreading rumors about Xinjiang.
The hashtag “Support Xinjiang Cotton” was the hot topic at Weibo on Thursday.
Nike game in China
H&M wasn’t the only international retailer to face the wrath of Chinese web users. Nike is also about to play.
The US sportswear giant said in a statement it was “concerned about reports of forced labor in and related to” Xinjiang. Nike said it does not source any local products and “confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from” Xinjiang.
It is unclear when Nike’s statement was released.
Chinese actor Wang Yi Bo cut ties with Nike after the online backlash, according to the management agency. Chinese actress Tan Songyun also cut ties with the company.
Nike wasn’t immediately available for comment when CNBC contacted him.
– CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.