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H&M pledges to repair relationship with China after Xinjiang backlash

Clothing retailer H&M is desperately trying to rebuild bridges following the backlash over its concerns about alleged human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang province

The chain vowed on Wednesday to win back trust in China amid growing signs its fashion empire is suffering over its allegations of forced labour use in the region.

H&M, which also reported a quarterly loss because of the continued closure of some of its shops in the pandemic, came under fire from consumers and officials in China after a statement from last year resurfaced on social media.

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In it, the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer expressed concern about the allegations of forced labour in Xinjiang and said it would no longer source cotton from there. China denies the claims.

China is H&M’s top clothing supplier and fourth-biggest market by sales.

Other Western brands including Burberry, Nike and Adidas have also been hit by consumer boycotts in the country for raising similar concerns.

In a statement  alongside its quarterly results, H&M said its commitment to China remained strong and it was dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence of customers, colleagues and business partners there.

“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,” it said.

CONSUMER TRUST

The statement made no mention of Xinjiang, and did not give details on how H&M hoped to win back Chinese consumers’ trust.

H&M Chief Executive Helena Helmersson, formerly head of sustainability, told analysts and reporters on a call that 20 of the Swedish group’s stores were currently closed in China, but declined to say whether that was related to the backlash.

H&M’s official store on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Tmall in China has not been accessible for days, and on Wednesday its app was not available on the app stores of Chinese mobile companies Huawei and Xiaomi.

Statements expressing concerns about Xinjiang previously seen on the websites of several western fashion retailers, including Zara owner Inditex, were no longer available on Wednesday.

  • Reporting by Reuters

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Sean OMeara

Sean O'Meara is an Editor at Asia Financial. He has been a newspaper man for more than 30 years, working at local, regional and national titles in the UK as a writer, sub-editor, page designer and print editor. A football, cricket and rugby fan, he has a particular interest in sports finance.

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