On the day the UN released its report of the “Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences," stating it is reasonable to conclude China forced labour among Uighur minorities, H&M went back to business on the country’s online behemoth, Tmall.
The unfortunate timing for the Swedish fast fashion giant sees Tomoya Obokata, who authored the report, confirm the coercive nature of China’s employment programs in Xinjiang points to forced labour even as they improve employment opportunities for some minorities. In layman's terms, it is likely the cotton sourced from Xinjiang is tainted with human rights issues.
"Given the nature and scope of the powers exercised against affected workers during forced labor, including excessive surveillance, harsh living and working conditions, restriction of movement as a result of internment, threats, physical and/or sexual violence and other inhuman or degrading treatment, some cases may amount to enslavement as a crime against humanity, which merits further independent analysis,” Obokata’s report said.
China is equally a critical material supplier as it is a revenue stream for H&M. The country accounts for approximately 5 percent of its turnover and sales dropped 23 percent in the second quarter of 2021 amid boycotts. H&M operates around 375 stores in China.
It is important to note that H&M did not withdraw from Tmall 16 months ago, but that at the height of the controversy Tmall dropped H&M after it voiced criticism of forced labour in Xingiang and that it would stop sourcing cotton from the region. Tmall responded by removing H&M's collections from its site or making the brand unsearchable.
H&M did not comment on its return to China’s Tmall, nor on the UN’s findings and report.
The full report is accessible by filling out the number G2240897 on the Official Document System website of the United Nations.