H&M has become the latest brand to get caught up in the intensifying protests in Hong Kong, with calls for a boycott of the brand circulating on China’s Twitter-like microblog Weibo because of a recent shop closure.
“We are closed today,” read a notice (written in Cantonese and English) posted on the glass door of an H&M shop in Hong Kong on Monday, the same day of a general strike that reportedly involved workers from some 20 sectors. The exact location of the store wasn’t mentioned in the post that originally shared the photograph.
It wasn't this notice alone that angered mainland residents, however. A yellow Post-it note reading “Support!”, along with a smiley face, had been stuck below the notice on the outside of the glass door, with some people interpreting it as a further sign that H&M supports the strike and ongoing protests.
A Weibo user named “My小米生活” wrote in their Weibo newsfeed on Monday afternoon: “It’s your right to go on strike, referring to the H&M shop, while it’s our consumers’ right to boycott you. The rift occurs. [email protected]&MChina.”
According to a picture circuiting on Weibo, H&M China replied to the above post and clarified that the closure was a result of traffic and the safety of the brand's customers and employees, rather than because it was joining the general strike. This reply appeared to have later been deleted.
Another user named “Leeveraw” wrote: “Why H&M didn’t close doors [during previous protests], but specifically on Monday… Get out of China. Boycott HM!”
H&M gave the same explanation as the reply on Weibo when contacted by Campaign for comment. "H&M always put[s] the safety of our customers and employees as our utmost priority regardless of circumstances. As such, the stores in Hong Kong were closed yesterday to ensure the safety and well-being of our customers and employees," said Lisa Chai, head of communications at H&M Greater China, who is based in Hong Kong.
This isn't the first time H&M has had to address the events in Hong Kong. On July 26th the brand posted a statement on its Weibo account saying that the brand supports the “one country, two systems” policy and that it hoped people could express themselves in a peaceful and reasonable fashion.
This comment was made after a photograph of an H&M staff member apparently serving customers while wearing a yellow helmet (worn by many of the Hong Kong protesters) went viral. Stuck to the hat was a piece of paper saying “36 shots in Sheung Wan, Triads and Police Cooperation”, a reference to the 36 rounds of rubber bullets shot at protesters by police in Hong Kong on July 21st, the same night that a violent mob also attacked protesters in Hong Kong's Yuen Long district.
“We feel sorry for the incident and have immediately communicated with the staff. We’ll continue to cooperate with everyone to support Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity,” said the statement.
While brands in Hong Kong have been notably quiet since the protests have begun, H&M is not the only company to be unwillingly pulled into the unrest.
Pocari Sweat China moved to distance itself from its Hong Kong branch in July after Pocari Sweat Hong Kong won the support of protesters for its decision to pull advertising from local broadcaster TVB over allegedly biased coverage of the protests.
And Nike China reportedly stopped selling a line of shoes in the mainland after its Japanese designer posted a message championing the protests on social media.