H&M says 'dedicated to regaining trust' in China after boycott

H&M says 'dedicated to regaining trust' in China after boycott
Following a boycott over H&M's decision to stop sourcing Xinjiang cotton, Chinese social media users criticised the company after it expressed a desire to regain trust in China.
3 min read
A man walks by an H&M clothing store in Beijing, China [Getty]

Sweden's H&M said Wednesday it wanted to regain the trust of people in China after a boycott over its decision to stop sourcing cotton from Xinjiang, but it came under renewed fire on Chinese social media.

H&M and other fashion brands have been pilloried in China for statements voicing concern about allegations of forced labour in cotton fields in the far west region.

Chinese celebrities and tech firms pulled partnerships with H&M, Nike, Adidas, Burberry and Calvin Klein. H&M was even erased from Chinese shopping apps.

"We are working together with our colleagues in China to do everything we can to manage the current challenges and find a way forward," H&M said in a statement.

"We are dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence of our customers, colleagues, and business partners in China," it said.

Rights groups say more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been held in internment camps in Xinjiang, where they have also been forced to work in factories.

"We want to be a responsible buyer, in China and elsewhere, and are now building forward-looking strategies and actively working on next steps with regards to material sourcing," H&M said.

H&M had announced its decision to stop getting cotton from Xinjiang last year, but its statement resurfaced last week as China traded sanctions and recriminations with Western nations over the troubled region.

The company was lambasted again Wednesday on Weibo, China's tightly controlled equivalent of Twitter.

The hashtag for "H&M's latest statement doesn't mention Xinjiang" was the top search on Weibo, with more than 35 million views.

Online comments included "take a hike", "boycott, I am determined" and "beat it! And Nike, Adidas, all of them", as well as expletive-laced insults.

'Very important market'

H&M makes around six percent of its revenue in China, which is home to nearly 10 percent of its stores.

China had become H&M's third biggest market before the boycott.

The company has not released the figures on the financial impact of the boycott or which measures it has taken in response to the controversy.

"China is a very important market to us and our long-term commitment to the country remains strong," H&M said, noting it has been present in the country for more than 30 years.

The statement was issued on the sidelines of quarterly results which showed a net loss of 1.07 billion kronor (104 million euros, $123 million) in the December to February period due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a 27 percent drop in revenue.

In late March, about 1,500 of the company's 5,000 stores were temporarily closed due to coronavirus restrictions, H&M said.

Sales, however, jumped 55 percent in March compared to the same month last year.

The company said it was expecting a strong recovery this year as conditions around the pandemic improve.

Australian Olympians were the latest to be embroiled in the row on Wednesday as the country revealed its uniforms for the upcoming Tokyo Games.

The Australian Olympic committee faced criticism as it rolled out ASICS-branded sportswear, with the company facing questions over its use of cotton from the Xinjiang region.

The vice president of the olympic committee said it had been assured that none of the cotton came from that region.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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