H&M, Burberry scrubbed from internet in China over forced labor accusations


H&M stores in China have suddenly disappeared from Apple Maps amid the fast growing controversy over human rights in China’s cotton-picking region.

Beijing consumers could not find location listings for the fast-fashion retailer on either Apple Maps or Baidu Maps on Friday, according to Bloomberg, while stores for other retailers including Japan-based Uniqlo continue to be listed.

Meanwhile, Burberry became the first luxury brand to be ensnared in the apparent crackdown. Its trademark plaid design was scrubbed from a popular video game in China — Honor of Kings — and a Chinese actress who was a brand ambassador terminated her contract with Burberry, according to Reuters. 

Earlier this week, H&M was removed from Alibaba’s e-commerce platform after unnamed sources exposed past statements from the Swedish retailer about its concerns over reports of forced labor China’s cotton region, Xinjiang, and that it did not source products from that area.

H&M’s flagship store in Beijing on Thursday.
Getty Images

Both Nike and Adidas have made similar statements about not sourcing their products from Xinjiang. There were calls this week in China for boycotts of their products as well.

China’s Communist Youth League and the People’s Liberation Army both spoke out earlier this week specifically against H&M’s statements — which appear to be deleted from its social media accounts.

On Friday, the Chinese government spoke out against “lies and disinformation” about Xinjiang in response to the United Kingdom imposing sanctions this week for alleged human rights abuses in that region. 

Aerial view of a seeding machine sowing cotton seeds in a field on Wednesday in Tumxuk, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China.
VCG via Getty Images

London-based Burberry is a member of the Better Cotton Initiative, which promotes sustainable cotton production and which said last year that it was suspending its approval of cotton sourced from Xinjiang. Burberry’s cotton is sourced from the US, Australia, India, Turkey and Egypt, its website says.

Burberry’s Chinese brand ambassador, Zhou Dongyu, said she would no longer work with the fashion giant because it had not “clearly and publicly stated its stance on cotton from Xinjiang,” according to Reuters.

The Chinese e-commerce site Taobao displays the message “Sorry, no related items were found” when searching for products from clothing retailer H&M.

It’s not clear who is responsible for eliminating H&M’s store listings from the map software, but it’s widely known that the Chinese government controls and censors social media content in the country, restricting access to its 1.4 billion consumers.

The Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing shows the message “no results, try another search term” when searching for destinations beginning with the letter H in Beijing on Friday.

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