Meituan, Didi, Baidu, and China’s Big Tech erase H&M’s online presence amid Xinjiang cotton controversy
- Searches for ‘H&M’ and ‘HM’ yielded no results on China’s map applications, e-commerce sites, ride-hailing apps, and food-delivery platforms as of Friday
- Netizens also targeted other overseas brands, including Nike, Adidas and Burberry, after they issued similar statements over forced-labour in Xinjiang
A number of major Chinese tech firms have erased the virtual presence of Swedish multinational clothing retailer H&M from their platforms amid a public uproar in China over the brand’s position on the alleged use of forced labour by Xinjiang cotton producers.
Although the Chinese government has not singled out any particular company, a nationwide consumer boycott against foreign brands - including H&M, Nike, Adidas and Burberry - is sweeping the country in response to their previous statements about refusing to use Xinjiang cotton .
H&M became a key target after statements it issued last year voicing concern over allegations of forced labour to produce cotton in Xinjiang were circulated widely on social media by groups affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party. Searches for “H&M” and “HM” yielded no results on China’s map applications, e-commerce sites, ride-hailing apps, and food-delivery platforms as of Friday, as the Swedish brand faced a backlash in China.
On Friday morning, an order placed for food to be delivered to an H&M store was denied by on-demand service giant Meituan. Hailing a car with an H&M store as the destination was not possible on ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing, which did not recognise the store address as being valid. Users were also not able to find H&M stores as destinations on China’s major online maps including Baidu, Tencent and AutoNavi maps.
Meituan, Didi and Baidu did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Further, H&M products were blocked for purchase on China’s leading e-commerce platforms including Taobao, owned by Alibaba Group Holding (owner of the Post), JD.com, and Pinduoduo.
However, the boycott has not affected H&M’s own social media accounts, with its presence on Tencent Holding’s all-purpose app WeChat and microblogging platform Weibo still accessible, along with the Chinese version of its website.
In China, where the world’s biggest internet population relies heavily on online services for shopping, meals, education and transport, losing access to these platforms means H&M is cut off from one of its most important communication channels to Chinese consumers.
The European brand was targeted by Chinese tech platforms despite H&M China issuing a statement two days ago on Weibo, saying that its commitment to “responsible business conduct … does not represent any political position”, and that the company “respects Chinese consumers and is committed to long-term investment and development in the market”.
In a statement last year, H&M, the world’s second-biggest clothing retailer, said it did not source cotton from Xinjiang. “We do not work with any garment manufacturing factories located in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, and we do not source products from this region,” the company said.
Some Chinese social media users were not convinced of the sincerity of the latest H&M response. “Please just exit the China market, and don’t put on an act like this,” one of the most up-voted comments said under the company’s Weibo statement.
“It did not hurt until you were taken down from the e-commerce platform, did it?” another user wrote. “We are also waiting for your physical stores to shut.”
Tencent’s decision, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter, was related to Burberry’s position on Xinjiang-produced cotton as a member of the Better Cotton Initiative. London-based Burberry said last year that it did not use any raw materials from Xinjiang, where Beijing denies claims of genocide and forced labour in the region.