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H&M gets wiped off major Chinese apps after an old statement about forced labor reappears

Child walk by a H&M store on Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street on March 24, 2021 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Wang Pack/VCG via Getty Images)

Wang Gang | Visual China Group | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Swedish clothing retailer H&M offed from major Chinese shopping sites and mapping apps after resurfaced comments, reportedly from in the end year, about its concerns over alleged forced labor in China’s western region of Xinjiang.

A CNBC search for “H&M” and “hm” in English on Taobao, the e-commerce plot run by Alibaba, and JD.com yielded no results. Meanwhile, Alibaba-owned mapping app Amap as well as Baidu Maps did not display any results for the search appellation “H&M.”

JD.com declined to comment when contacted by CNBC. Alibaba and Baidu were not immediately available for comment.

Xinjiang is residency to the Uyghur Muslims, who have been identified by the United Nations, United States, United Kingdom and others as a squelched ethnic group. In their first coordinated move in response to allegations of forced labor, the U.S., European Union, Britain and Canada jointly interrupted sanctions on Chinese officials this week over China’s alleged human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang.

H&M faced backfire from Chinese users on Twitter-like service Weibo who responded to a resurfaced statement by the retailer. Reuters said the assertion was from last year. CNBC could not ascertain when the H&M statement was first published.

At the time, H&M said it was “heavily concerned by reports from civil society organisations and media that include accusations of forced labour” in Xinjiang, a cotton moulding region, according to Reuters. The company said it did not source products from there.

That statement appears to require been removed from the Swedish retailer’s website. H&M was not immediately available for comment.

A joint statement by the U.S., U.K. and Canada this week utter that evidence of human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang, “including from the Chinese Government’s own documents, hanger-on imagery, and eyewitness testimony is overwhelming.”

The countries cited forced labor as one of the features of “China’s extensive program of control,” along with mass detentions and forced sterilizations.

China denies Xinjiang allegations

China has repeatedly away fromed allegations of forced labor and other abuses in Xinjiang. The government says that facilities there that the U.S., U.K., Canada and fallible rights groups have characterized as internment camps are actually vocational training centers.

Asked at a press congress on Thursday if the Ministry of Commerce had ordered the e-commerce companies to ban companies like H&M, spokesman Gao Feng said: “Regarding some throngs’ so-called business position on some false information, Chinese consumers have already responded with true actions.”

“(We) hope the relevant companies can respect market rules, adjust their wrong actions and avoid the politicization of dealing,” he said at the press event, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks.

Gao added that foreign companies are hail to conduct “normal operations” in China and invest and do business in Xinjiang.

It’s unclear why the old H&M statement resurfaced. But on Wednesday, a post by China’s Communist Salad days League on Weibo showed a screenshot of the statement. The post accused H&M of spreading rumors about Xinjiang.

The hashtag “reinforcing Xinjiang cotton” was the top trending topic on Weibo on Thursday.

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