What Happened: H&M is being canceled in China. In an unprecedented move, the fast-fashion retailer has been removed from e-commerce platforms, including Taobao, Tmall, JD.com, and Pinduoduo. Even the second-hand marketplace Xianyu has erased any mention of the company. Telecom giant Huawei has banned H&M’s app from its downloads, and its products have disappeared from livestreams hosted by the celebrity anchor Viya. These actions follow public outcry after the company announced it ceased supplying its cotton from the Xinjiang region, embroiling it in one of the biggest examples of China’s cancel culture to date.
The Jing Take: Few falls from grace have been this swift: Last week, H&M was riding high after a sell-out collaboration with Simone Rocha. Now, celebrities are racing to distance themselves from the company (the studios of actor Huang Xuan, with 10 million Weibo followers, and singer Victoria Song, with 49 million, have both released dissociative statements).
Transparency in supply chains is currently a top priority for Western brands and high time, too. Chains must be clear and traceable, and the eradication of human rights abuses is the bare minimum. On the one hand, H&M has done much recently to address these issues and is ranked No. 20 in the most recent Gartner’s Supply Chain Top 25 — behind Nike at No. 16 and Alibaba at No. 7. Since 2020, it has banned cotton from the Xinjiang region citing human rights concerns.
However, in the past, companies like H&M (and Primark, Nike, and others) have, for decades, routinely been name-checked as some of the worst offenders when it comes to worker rights abuses. The Clean Clothes Campaign found that, during the pandemic, many fashion names like H&M continued to violate working contacts by failing to pay wages. The organic outrage bubbling over on the mainland confirms China’s absolute conviction not to be lectured to and a total belief in its own opinions. Today’s statement, which notes that the company cooperates with more than 350 other manufacturers in China, will do little to quell this.
From miscalculated ambassadorial appointments to campaign missteps, no brand is truly ever safe in China. Dolce & Gabbana, Victoria’s Secret, and Tiffany have all fallen. Today, it is H&M’s turn to find out how seemingly absolute Western narratives can play out differently on the mainland. Various Weibo accounts are sharing the names of other brands that no longer use cotton sourced from the region, including Burberry and Puma. Thus unfolds a new soul-searching dilemma for the fashion industry.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.