H&M’s attempts to ease tensions in China have backfired after the fashion retailer altered a map on its website which showed islands in the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam belonging to China instead.
The fashion giant changed the map after it said it was “dedicated to regaining the trust” of China after all evidence of its existence was deleted online and landlords shut its stores across the country as a result of H&M’s criticism over China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.
“China is a very important market to us and our long-term commitment to the country remains strong,” H&M said in a statement.
The head of the H&M’s Shanghai unit was told to improve its “national territory awareness” by the city’s regulator.
However in doing so, the fashion label has angered Vietnamese shoppers after it was claimed that the altered map infringed Vietnamese maritime sovereignty according to Saigon Giai Phong.
Vietnamese nationals took to Twitter to voice their anger at the map alteration.
Paracel and Spratly Islands are belong to VietNam legally allowed by International Laws UNCLOS. @hm is now fighting against the laws n all Asian. We fight because we must fight! #Vietnam #HoangSaTruongSabelongtoVN #taychayHM #hmgetoutofvietnam #BoycottHM pic.twitter.com/hugfDhTEvW
— Huong L. Tran (@HuongLTran2) April 2, 2021
The Chinese government claim more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea, however the claims are disputed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Brunei.
It is thought that H&M has suffered the main brunt of the boycott as Sweden, where the company is based, has given Uighur Muslims refugee status.
The row has sparked a conversation about whether brands should speak out against accusations of Chinese human rights abuses, while hoping to maintain sales in the region.
READ MORE: H&M “dedicated to regaining trust” of China after its stores and online presence disappear
A managing director of China Market Research Group, Shaun Rein, told The Times anger at Western brands was “very real”.
“You see it spread across social media very quickly and then Chinese celebrities, out of self-preservation, say we’re not going to represent these brands any more because they are scared of the online crowd turning on them,” Rein added.
He also stated that Alibaba and JD.com, which are China’s biggest e-commerce sites, also removed brands for similar reasons.
“We are debating internally how long we can stay silent,” one senior figure at a leading UK asset manager said.
“It’s one thing having a go at Sports Direct, but taking on China is something else. Until we are willing to say something ourselves, how can we ask companies to speak out?”