HONG KONG—For app users in the world’s most populous country, the world’s biggest seller of fast fashion has effectively ceased to exist.
As of Thursday, Hennes & Mauritz AB’s H&M had been wiped off China’s leading e-commerce, ride-hailing, daily-deals and map applications, as Chinese consumers continued to rage over the Swedish clothing brand’s decision to stop sourcing from China’s Xinjiang region.
H&M’s swift erasure from Chinese platforms marked an escalation in the kind of retaliation Western companies can face when running up against Beijing on hot-button issues, such as human rights and China’s policies toward ethnic groups in Xinjiang—and how quickly and massively a backlash can hit a company in one of its most important markets.
Criticism of H&M—including calls for boycotts—by Chinese social-media users surged on Wednesday, apparently over the company’s statement last year that it was no longer sourcing from Xinjiang, a major cotton producer, because of forced-labor allegations there. The statement suddenly went viral on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, amplified by mentions in multiple state-media accounts.
On Thursday, ordering a car to an H&M store was impossible on Didi, the country’s largest ride-hailing app, which didn’t recognize the brand as a valid destination. Searching for H&M on multiple Chinese map apps, including Baidu Maps, run by China’s largest search engine, returned zero results, as if the clothing company didn’t exist despite its 400 stores in China.