China wipes H&M off the internet amid Xinjiang backlash

China wipes H&M off the internet amid Xinjiang backlash

HONG KONG – H&M disappeared from the internet in China as the government increased pressure on shoe and clothing brands and announced sanctions on UK officials on Friday in a bitter fight against complaints of abuse in the Xinjiang region .
H&M products were absent from major e-commerce platforms, including Alibaba and, following calls from state media to boycott the Swedish retailer’s decision to stop buying cotton from Xinjiang. This is hurting H & M’s ability to reach customers in a country where more than a fifth of purchases are made online.

The shockwaves spread to other brands as dozens of celebrities quash endorsement deals with Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Uniqlo and Lacoste after state media criticized the brands for worrying from Xinjiang.

Brands are struggling to respond to pressure overseas to distance themselves from abuse without triggering Chinese retaliation and losing access to one of the largest and most dynamic markets. This pressure is mounting as human rights activists pressure sponsors to withdraw from the Beijing Winter Olympics slated for February 2022.

Tencent, which runs games and the popular messaging service WeChat, has announced that it is removing Burberry-designed suits from a popular mobile phone game.

In a high-tech version of the airbrush used by China and other authoritarian regimes to remove political enemies from historic photos, around 500 H&M stores in China failed to show up on the Didi Chuxing tele-helicopter app or on card services operated by Alibaba and Baidu. . Its smartphone app has disappeared from app stores.

It was not clear whether the companies had received orders to wipe out H & M’s online presence, but Chinese companies would have to line up without being told. Regulators have broad powers to punish companies that do not support official policy.

The ruling Communist Party’s Youth League launched attacks on H&M on Wednesday following the European Union’s decision to join with the United States, Britain and Canada in imposing sanctions on those responsible Chinese accused of abuse in Xinjiang.

The Chinese government on Friday announced sanctions against nine Britons and four institutions. They are prohibited from traveling to China or carrying out financial transactions with its citizens and institutions.

More than one million members of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been confined to detention camps in Xinjiang, according to foreign governments and researchers. The authorities are accused of imposing forced labor and coercive birth control measures.

The Chinese government rejects complaints of abuse and says the camps are intended for vocational training to support economic development and combat Islamic radicalism.

State media accused H&M and other brands of taking unfair advantage of China while criticizing it. This prompted Chinese retailers and internet businesses to distance themselves from the Swedish retailer, although other brands are still available on e-commerce platforms.

“It’s a form of self-preservation,” said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai.

Rein said the anger at H&M was the hardest he had seen against a foreign brand. He said the companies were particularly sensitive because it comes at a time when China’s anti-monopoly and other regulators are stepping up scrutiny of internet operators.

“If they don’t try to criticize, they’ll be in trouble as well,” Rein said.

The Communist Party often puts pressure on clothing, travel and other foreign brands for the actions of their governments or to coerce them to adopt its positions on Taiwan, Tibet and other sensitive issues.

Most comply because China is one of the largest and fastest growing markets for global fashion, electronics, and other consumer brands.

China is H&M’s fourth largest market behind Germany, the United States and Great Britain and accounted for around 5% of 2020 revenue.

Greater China is Nike Inc.’s third-largest market after North America and Europe.

Greater China accounted for 23% of Nike’s global sales in the quarter ending February, compared to 36.5% for North America. But China’s revenues were up 51% from a year earlier, as consumer demand rebounded from the coronavirus, while North American sales fell 10%.

An H&M outlet in Shanghai only had a handful of customers on Friday afternoon.

“I was not aware of the backlash. I came here to buy a coat for spring because H&M is reasonably priced and fashionable, ”said Wang Yuying, a 52-year-old retiree who shopped at the store.

“I will buy something more since I’m already here, but if this game lasts very long, I will buy less of this brand. ”

One seller, who asked not to be identified by name due to the sensitivity of the issue, said there were far fewer buyers than a normal Friday. The seller said he understands why consumers are angry, but said if the backlash continues, it will hurt the livelihoods of local employees of the targeted brands.

Two character outfits designed by Burberry in Tencent’s popular Honor of Kings mobile game have been deleted, the game’s social media account said Thursday. There was no reason why.

Celebrities, including at least one Uyghur, have announced that they are ending endorsement deals with foreign shoe and clothing brands.

Gulnazar, an actress from Xinjiang, said she was severing ties with Puma. On her social media account, Gulnazar said she “resolutely resists all attempts to discredit China.”

Hong Kong singers Eason Chan and Angelababy have announced they are severing ties with Adidas. Actress Zhou Dongyu has split from Burberry. Actors Ni Ni and Jing Boran have broken up with Uniqlo.

Song Qian, a singer and former member of Korean pop group f (x) also known as Victoria Song, and actor Huang Xuan announced earlier that they were ending endorsement deals with H&M.

In Hong Kong, pro-Beijing MK Regina Ip said in a Twitter message that she would stop buying Burberry, one of her favorite brands.

“I support my country to boycott companies that spread lies about Xinjiang,” she said.

Not all brands have avoided sourcing from Xinjiang.

South Korean athletic shoe brand FILA said on Friday the company was buying cotton from Xinjiang and would continue to do so.

On its social media account, FILA China said it has started the process of withdrawing from the Better Cotton Initiative, an industry group that promotes environmental and labor standards.

H&M’s announcement last year that it would no longer use cotton from Xinjiang cited the BCI’s decision to stop licensing the region’s cotton as it was difficult to trace how it was produced. .

It is not known why the party targeted H&M, whose expression of concern over Xinjiang was similar to that of other companies. But her home country, Sweden, could be seen by Chinese leaders as more vulnerable to pressure due to her small size.

Relations between Beijing and Stockholm have been strained since 2015, when a Chinese-born Swedish publisher disappeared from Thailand and surfaced in China. The Chinese ambassador angered the Swedish government by calling him in a television interview a “light boxer”.


McDonald reported from Beijing. Associated Press researchers Yu Bing in Beijing and Chen Si in Shanghai contributed


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