H&M was wiped from the internet in China, sending a chilling warning to other retailers

Business Insider US
People walk by an H&M clothing store at a shopping area on March 30, 2021 in Beijing, China.
  • H&M's online presence in China is disappearing as the nation's citizens boycott the brand.
  • H&M products are missing from popular shopping sites, and store locations were scrubbed from map services.
  • H&M's months-old comment criticising China over forced labor accusations resurfaced last week.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

H&M's online presence has all but disappeared in China amid a widespread boycott of the Swedish retailer following the recirculation of comments about forced labour made by the company last year.

H&M items were scrubbed from Alibaba, the e-commerce behemoth founded by Jack Ma, and, one of China's largest online retailers, according to the Associated Press. China's Google Maps-like Baidu Maps platform, as well as Alibaba's map service, also removed the locations of H&M's 500 Chinese store locations. Those stores weren't appearing in the Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing either, according to the report, and the H&M app was also absent from app stores.

H&M did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

The disappearance of H&M's online presence represents the power that China can wield over foreign retailers as Chinese companies and consumers boycott the brand and others that are leveling criticism at the government.

Last year, H&M released a statement announcing its decision to stop sourcing cotton from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and said it would sever its ties with a Chinese yarn company that had been accused of forcing labor upon the Uighur Muslim community. The comment was made after the BBC reported that hundreds of thousands in the Uighur minority were being subjected to arduous forced labor.

Reports have since emerged accusing officials of further prosecuting Uighurs with confinement in concentration camps in Xinjiang, as well as forced sterilization. Beijing has denied that account and has said the camps are "reeducation centers" that offer "vocational training."

In the 2020 statement, H&M said it was "deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor." It was recirculated on the social media platform Weibo after the US, the EU, Britain, and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights violations last week. China in turn imposed penalties Friday on British officials, barring them from entering the country.

H&M counts China as its fourth-largest market, according to Reuters, and many in Communist China have taken issue the retailer's comments.

"Spreading rumors to boycott Xinjiang cotton while trying to make money in China? Wishful thinking!" China's Communist Youth League posted on Weibo, per China's Global Times news outlet.

H&M isn't the only international brand to receive backlash for taking such a public stance against Xinjiang-sourced cotton. At least 11 US and European brands, including Burberry, Nike, and Adidas, are also facing the fallout. Tencent said it was scrubbing costumes designed by Burberry that were worn by characters in a popular online game, per the AP.

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