Old H&M Comment on ‘Forced Labor’ in China’s Xinjiang Raises Online Storm

March 24, 2021 Updated: March 24, 2021

BEIJING—At least one Chinese online retailer appeared to drop H&M’s products amid social media attacks on the Swedish company for saying it was “deeply concerned” about reports of forced labor in the far-western region of Xinjiang.

The European Union, United States, Britain, and Canada on Monday imposed sanctions on Chinese officials accusing them of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. China retaliated with sanctions on European lawmakers and institutions.

H&M had previously said in a statement it was “deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor” and that it did not source products from Xinjiang.

Activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labor, and sterilization of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

It was not immediately clear why an old statement from H&M, which media had reported last year, about the cotton-producing region was back in the public eye.

H&M’s official store on Alibaba’s Tmall, an e-commerce platform, was not accessible on Wednesday. The official People’s Daily reported that searches for H&M products on platforms JD.com and Pinduoduo no longer showed any results. Reuters was unable to determine if such products were previously available.

Alibaba, JD.com, and Pinduoduo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China is H&M’s fourth-biggest market with sales of 2.9 billion Swedish crowns ($339 million) in the 12 months through November 2020.

cotton fields in Xinjiang
A view of cotton fields is seen during harvest season in Hami, Xinjiang, China on Oct. 14, 2018. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

H&M also said in its original statement it would phase out its relationship with a Chinese supplier accused of forced labor.

H&M China said it respected Chinese consumers and that it was committed to long-term investment and development in China adding that they do not source cotton directly from any supplier.

“H&M Group has always managed our global supply chain in an open and transparent manner, ensuring that our suppliers worldwide comply with our sustainability commitments such as the OECD Guidelines for Responsible Business Conduct and do not represent any political position,” it said in a statement.

By Gabriel Crossley, Anna Ringstrom and Josh Horwitz