Top ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing among other apps drop H&M from its listings, joining a backlash over comments made by the Swedish fashion retailer last year about alleged labour abuses in Xinjiang Uighur region.

Workers make protective suits at a factory of a medical equipment maker in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China  on January 27, 2020.
Workers make protective suits at a factory of a medical equipment maker in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China on January 27, 2020. (Reuters)

China's top ride-hailing app has dropped Swedish fashion retailer H&M from its listings as Chinese celebrities stopped endorsing foreign labels in a growing uproar over the accusations of forced labour in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Search results for H&M in the Didi Chuxing ride-hailing app for all of China's major cities yielded no results on Friday.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The backlash against H&M caused Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, shopping app Meituan and the maps app for search engine Baidu Inc to each remove the Swedish retailer from their listings.

H&M faced a public backlash in China when social media users in the country circulated a statement the company made last year announcing it would no longer source cotton from the region after reports of the alleged use of "forced labour" on Uighur Muslims.

Western governments and rights groups have accused the Chinese authorities in the far western region of detaining and torturing Uighurs in camps, where some former inmates have said they were subject to ideological indoctrination.

Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps in the question as vocational training centres which help combat religious extremism.

READ MORE: China hits UK organisations and individuals with sanctions over Uighurs

The United States has condemned a "boycott" campaign by Beijing against foreign brands that have declined to use cotton grown in Xinjiang.

"The US condemns the PRC... social media campaign and corporate and consumer boycott against companies, including American, European and Japanese businesses," said State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter, referring to the People's Republic of China.

"We commend and stand with companies that adhere to the US laws, and ensure products we're consuming are not made with forced labor," Porter said.

Other brands that have taken a hit

Other overseas brands, including Burberry Group PLC , Nike Inc, and Adidas AG have also faced an online blowback for making similar statements regarding their sourcing of cotton in the Uighur region.

The Human Rights section of H&M's website on Friday no longer carried the link to the 2020 statement. 

The statement could still be accessed through the page's direct address.

READ MORE: US blocks some imports from Xinjiang after claims of forced Uighur labour

Statements expressing concern about or intolerance of "forced labour" in the region previously seen on the websites of Inditex , VF Corp, PVH and Abercrombie & Fitch were no longer available on Thursday.

Following enquiries by Reuters news agency, VF Corp pointed to a statement on a separate section of its website that said it did not source from the region. 

A Google cache showed the statement had been added in the last four days. VF did not respond to a question asking why the statement had been moved.

PVH, Inditex and Abercrombie & Fitch did not respond to a request for comment.

READ MORE: Why aren't Uyghur Muslims in China allowed to go to Hajj?

"We have to stand by the brands keeping statements condemning slavery and shame those who are taking them down. This is a defining moment for these brands," said French MEP Raphael Glucksmann, one of 10 EU individuals sanctioned by China who has run social media campaigns calling on retailers to stand against "forced labour" in Xinjiang.

"Consumers in Europe need to place counter pressure on companies retracting their statements."

Chinese celebs drop brands

The cotton row has spilt over into the entertainment world, with Chinese celebrities dropping several foreign retail labels, including six US brands such as Nike.

New Balance, Under Armour, Tommy Hilfiger and Converse, owned by Nike, have come under fire in China for statements saying they would not use Xinjiang cotton.

Other brands affected include Adidas, Puma and Fast Retailing's Uniqlo.

"I can confirm that Uniqlo's Chinese brand ambassadors have terminated their contracts," said a Fast Retailing spokesperson. "Regarding cotton, we only source sustainable cotton and this has not changed."

READ MORE: Popular Uighur comedian disappears in China's Xinjiang region

At least 27 Chinese movie stars and singers have declared in the past two days that they would stop cooperating with foreign brands.

Their decision was widely praised by Chinese internet users for being patriotic and trended high on the popular Twitter-like microblog Weibo.

"I have bought these kinds of products in the past and this situation doesn‘t mean that I will now throw them away, destroy them or something like that" said graduate Lucy Liu outside a Beijing shopping mall.

"What I'll do is just avoid buying them for the moment."

READ MORE: Nike sparks social media storm in China after Xinjiang statement

Beijing rejects 'disinformation'

Beyond the fashion and retail industry, China sanctioned British organisations and individuals on Friday over what it called "lies and disinformation" about Xinjiang Uighur region, days after Britain imposed sanctions of its own.

"China is firmly determined to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests, and warns the UK side not to go further down the wrong path," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. 

"Otherwise, China will resolutely make further reactions."

The sanctions are the latest sign of deteriorating relations between London and Beijing, including China's crackdown on dissent in the former British colony of Hong Kong, which had been guaranteed its freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies