- Swedish fashion retailer H&M is being boycotted by Chinese online retailers and customers alike.
- The boycott is in reaction to an H&M statement on not using Xinjiang cotton due to "forced labor" concerns.
- Some physical stores are closing and signs are being taken down in response to the backlash.
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Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M is facing boycotts by Chinese online e-commerce platforms and customers alike after a statement on its "concerns" regarding the use of "forced labor" to produce Xinjiang cotton resurfaced this week.
H&M is one of several big international brands, including Nike and Adidas, that were targeted by the Chinese online community this week after translations of its statement on human rights violations in Xinjiang were circulated on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.
In the statement, H&M said it would not source cotton from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and added it was terminating its relationship with a Chinese yarn company accused of using the "forced labor" of Uighur Muslims. Additionally, the company said that it was "deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor".
As of noon on Thursday, H&M's listings had been scrubbed clean from popular shopping apps like Alibaba, Taobao, JD.com, and Pinduoduo.
In solidarity with the mass boycott, conglomerate Meituan's shop-listing app Dianping, as well as Baidu Maps (the Chinese version of Google Maps) also removed the geo-locations of H&M stores from their mobile and desktop applications, making it impossible to search for H&M's physical stores on any online platform.
A video posted by a Weibo user from Chengdu, a city in Sichuan province, showed workers swiftly dismantling a sign bearing H&M's logo outside one of the city's mega-malls.
Weibo users say 'die, H&M, die'
Chinese Weibo users expressed solidarity with the moves by the e-commerce platforms and malls, pledging to return H&M items en-masse. Comment threads that spotlighted homegrown Chinese brands that were "good replacements" for H&M clothes were also reposted more than a million times.
"I'm cutting up all their s---ty clothes. Everyone should boycott the dogs who harm our country," said one Weibo user named Xiaojiaotongxue.
Weibo posts from Chinese social media users indicated that at least 50 physical H&M outlets in the country have been shuttered abruptly, amid fears that aggressive customers might cause a disturbance.
"Die, H&M, die," read another comment from a user with the ID FiiiiSiwen, under the image of a shuttered H&M store in a Shandong mall. "Any b---- who still dares to work at this place should also jump off a building."
According to the BBC, H&M's statement on Xinjiang cotton was posted last year, after it came to light that hundreds of thousands of Uighurs were being forced into hard labor in the Xinjiang region.
But it resurfaced on Chinese social media this week after the EU, US, Britain, and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over accusations of human rights violations related to the treatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. In response, China retaliated by sanctioning European institutions and lawmakers.
According to an article by The Washington Post, the statement was dredged up by the country's state broadcaster CGTN yesterday, as it exhorted consumers to boycott the brand, saying H&M would "pay a heavy price."
This co-ordinated call to boycott was also repeated on other platforms linked to the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese news outlet Global Times called H&M's move "suicidal," highlighting that the Communist Youth League of China had made a post slamming the brand, saying: "Spreading rumors to boycott Xinjiang cotton while also wanting to make money in China? It is wishful thinking!"
Insider has reached out to H&M, Alibaba, JD.com, and Pinduoduo for comment.
Big brands contend with the fallout from Xinjiang statements
Also grappling with the fallout from the Xinjiang controversy was Nike, which saw some of its ardent fans setting fire to their shoes after the brand said it would not use cotton from China's disputed Xinjiang region.
Insider earlier reported that the explosion of vitriol on Chinese social media had forced Chinese celebrities like Wang Yibo to cut ties with Nike and other brands embroiled in the controversy, for fear of receiving death threats and being branded as a "national traitor."
Statements from brands like Adidas, GAP, Fila, New Balance, Zara, and Under Armour saying they will not use Xinjiang cotton have been added to a Weibo list of "brands to blacklist" that grows longer by the hour.
Posts on Weibo citing the term "????" - literally translated as "kill the chicken to frighten the monkey" - have been circulating as well, referencing the online community's systematic boycott of EU brands before American ones.
"Europe, America, we'll take them all on and crush them alive," said one Chinese social media user with the ID Shaomiao Feifei. "There is no respect for us. Don't grovel and earn Chinese money, then spit on Chinese soil."