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H&M pledges to win back China’s trust amid Xinjiang backlash

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H&M pledged to regain Chinese shoppers’ trust Wednesday as it tried to tamp down a fiery backlash over its stance on human-rights abuses in the country’s Xinjiang region.

Chinese officials and consumers threatened the Swedish retailer with boycotts last week after its six-month-old statement about allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang resurfaced on social media.

In a new statement addressing the blowup, H&M said it is “dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence” of its customers, colleagues and business partners in China, where its store locations were reportedly scrubbed from digital maps last week.

“By working together with stakeholders and partners, we believe we can take steps in our joint efforts to develop the fashion industry, as well as serve our customers and act in a respectful way,” the company said.

The statement did not directly mention Xinjiang or the allegations that forced labor takes place there amid Beijing’s crackdown on the Uyghur Muslim ethnic minority group, which China has denied.

The recent controversy was sparked by H&M’s September statement saying it was “deeply concerned” by the reports of forced labor and emphasizing that it did not source cotton from Xinjiang.

China’s Communist Youth League and the People’s Liberation Army condemned the statement last week, and H&M’s official store on the Alibaba e-commerce platform was removed amid the backlash.

A worker picking cotton in China's Xinjiang region.
A worker picking cotton in China’s Xinjiang region.

H&M took a conciliatory tone in Wednesday’s statement, saying China — its top clothing supplier and fourth-largest market by sales — “will clearly continue to play an important role in further developing the entire industry.”

“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,” the statement added. “Together with all relevant stakeholders, we want to collaborate to be part of the solution and jointly build a more sustainable fashion industry.”

But the missive didn’t appear to convince Chinese state media. The Communist Party’s Global Times published an article Wednesday quoting Chinese consumers calling H&M’s statement “lots of nonsense” and saying the company “lives in prejudice.”

The state-owned China Central Television network said the statement was a “second-rate public relations article full of empty words lacking sincerity.”

With Post wires

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