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STOCKHOM – Swedish fast fashion giant H&M has returned to Tmall, the e-commerce platform run by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. The move comes 16 months after the brand was removed from the site following its decision to stop sourcing from Xinjiang in China. The company has now reopened its official store on Tmall, Alibaba’s flagship shopping platform. However, it remains absence from other websites run by Chinese companies, including Baidu Maps and consumer-review website Dianping.com.

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It is not yet clear what has prompted this change, however, the lure of the huge Chinese market will surely have been hard to resist. Concerns over a recession in Western markets which could dent sales in Europe and the US may also be weighing heavily on the company’s thinking.

H&M was caught in the cross-fire around Xinjiang cotton which blew up a couple of years ago. In 2020, the retailer said it would no longer sourcing from the region because of allegations that forced labour was being used there. Many other fashion retailers have been impacted by the boycott, however, well known names like H&M seem to have bore the brunt of the backlash from Chinese netizens on Chinese social media.

Brands had previously posted messages on their websites stating they would no longer use Xinjiang cotton due to links with forced labour. However, many of these brands (as well as the Better Cotton initiative) scrambled to remove these as they realised the extent of the nationalistic backlash from Chinese consumers.

Other Western brands such as Nike, Adidas, Burberry and Converse saw celebrity ambassadors sever ties over their public commitments not to use Xinjiang cotton.

The Swedish company said in April this year that it was still struggling with the fallout from the boycott by consumers.

H&M chief executive Helena Helmersson said at the time that the company was in talks with several stakeholders in China to try to improve the “complex situation.” (For complex read: we know we can no longer get away with using Xinjiang cotton but we still want access to the vast Chinese market; let’s allow the current furore to die down and then take stock).

H&M has also recently lost access to the Russian market having left the country following the invasion on Ukraine. H&M paused sales in Russia after the military operation began.

Last week, the business fully wound down operations in Russia.

Sky News reports that people at the Moscow shopping centre Aviapark said they were “very hurt” H&M is leaving, but “will start looking at Russian brands”.

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