Company News

H&M's Xinjiang labour stance raises social media storm in China

BEIJING, March 24 (Reuters) - Anger with retailer H&M erupted on Chinese social media on Wednesday as the Communist Youth League and state media attacked it for saying it was “deeply concerned” about reports of forced labour in the Xinjiang region.

The European Union, United States, Britain and Canada on Monday imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for 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 organisations and media that include accusations of forced labour,” and that it did not source products from Xinjiang.

It was not immediately clear why an old statement from the Swedish company, which media had reported last year, about the cotton-producing region where rights groups say Muslim Uighur people face repression, was back in the public eye.

“Spreading rumours to boycott Xinjiang cotton, while also wanting to make money in China? Wishful thinking!” the Communist Youth League, the youth wing of China’s ruling party, said in a post on the Weibo social media platform.

In another post, the League referred to remarks made by China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, at a combative meeting with his U.S. counterparts last week in Alaska, where, referring to various U.S. actions, he said the Chinese people “won’t swallow this”.

Xinjiang cotton “won’t swallow this”, the League said.

Actor Huang Xuan said on his official Weibo social media page he had terminated his contract as a representative for H&M, saying he opposed “slander and creating rumours”.

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

Some people on the Weibo called for H&M to leave China and for a boycott.

“It is so shameless to smear Xinjiang and we don’t buy your products,” one person said.

H&M did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper, Hu Xijin, urged Western companies to be “highly cautious” and not to “suppress China’s Xinjiang”.

To do so, he said in a social media post, would “undoubtedly arouse the anger of the Chinese public”. He did not single out any companies.

Activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labour and sterilisations in Xinjiang. China has denied these claims and says it is providing vocational training, and that its measures are needed to fight extremism. (Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Liangping Gao, Anna Ringstrom and Yilei Sun)