Clothing seller H&M disappeared from the internet in China recently as government pressure on foreign clothing companies increases.
The move is mainly believed to be the result of a dispute over China’s actions in the Xinjiang region.
Anger over the Swedish company’s decision to stop buying cotton from Xinjiang has led Chinese state media to call for a boycott. H&M products are now missing from major Chinese sales websites including Alibaba and JD.com.
Foreign governments and researchers say more than 1 million members of Uyghur and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been put in detention camps.
Officials in Xinjiang are accused of using forced labor and forcing birth control measures on the Uyghurs.
The Chinese government rejects these accusations. It says the camps are for job training to support economic development and to fight Islamic extremism.
State media accused H&M and other companies of profiting from China while criticizing it. The accusations led Chinese companies to distance themselves from the Swedish company.
Shaun Rein is managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai. Rein said the anger at H&M is the strongest he has seen against a foreign company. He said companies are especially sensitive because this comes at a time when Chinese officials are paying close attention to internet operators.
“If they don’t try to criticize, they’ll also get in trouble,” Rein said about the companies.
The Communist Party often punishes foreign businesses over actions by the governments of their home countries. In some cases, the Communist Party tries to force businesses to accept its positions on Taiwan, Tibet and other sensitive issues.
Most companies do what they have been asked because China is one of the biggest, fastest-growing markets. China is H&M’s fourth-largest market behind Germany, the United States and Britain.
Famous performers including at least one Uyghur announced they were ending endorsement deals with other foreign shoe and clothing companies.
Gulnazar, an actress from Xinjiang, said she was breaking ties with Puma. On her social media account, Gulnazar said she “resolutely resists all attempts to discredit China.”
Singers Eason Chan and Angelababy of Hong Kong announced they were breaking ties with Adidas. Actress Zhou Dongyu split with Burberry. And actors Ni Ni and Jing Boran broke with Uniqlo.
It is unclear why the Community Party targeted H&M, whose expression of concern about Xinjiang was similar to that of other companies. But its home country of Sweden might be seen by Chinese leaders as more easily affected by pressure because of its size.
Relations between China and Sweden have been less friendly since 2015 when a Chinese-born Swedish book publisher disappeared from Thailand and appeared in China. The Chinese ambassador angered the Swedish government by calling it a “lightweight boxer” in a TV interview.
I’m John Russell.
Zen Soo and Joe McDonald reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor. _____________________________________________________________
Words in This Story
region – n. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way
sensitive – adj. likely to cause people to become upset
endorsement – n. the act of publicly saying that you like or use a product or service in exchange for money
resolutely – adv. very determined : having or showing a lot of determination
discredit -- v. to damage the reputation of (someone)
interview – n. a meeting between a reporter and another person in order to get information for a news story