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 HM disappeared from major Chinese shopping sites and mapping apps after reports resurfaced last year over concerns about suspected forced labor in western China’s Xinjiang region.
A CNBC search for “H&M” and “hm” in English on Taobao, the e-commerce website operated by Alibaba, and JD.com gave 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.
The Uighur Muslims who have been identified by the United Nations live in Xinjiang. United States, United Kingdom and others as an oppressed ethnic group. On their first coordinated turn 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” in Xinjiang, a cotton-producing region. according to Reuters. The company said it did not source any products from there.
That statement seems to have been away from the Swedish retailer’s website. H&M was not immediately available for comment.
ON joint statement by the USA, Great Britain and Canada This week it said that evidence of human rights abuses and abuses in Xinjiang, “including the Chinese government’s own documents, satellite imagery and testimony, is overwhelming.”
Countries cited forced labor as one of the features of “China’s extensive program of repression,” along with mass detention and forced sterilization.
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 market rules, adapt their wrong actions 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 a post from China’s Communist Youth League on Weibo showed a screenshot of the statement. The Post accused H&M of spreading rumors about Xinjiang.
The hashtag “Support Xinjiang Cotton” was the hot topic at Weibo on Thursday.
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 Explanation 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.