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H&M caught between a rock and a hard place as Vietnam boycott begins

Following the recent boycott of H&M in China, the Swedish brand is facing another boycott in Vietnam after it was accused of using the controversial ‘nine-dash line’ map on its website. 

The issue started when the Cyberspace Administration of China in Shanghai received reports saying H&M was using “problematic map of China’ on its website last week. The Shanghai municipal bureau of planning and natural resources required the retailer to change the “error” immediately. It, however, didn’t mention what the error was. 

The change of the map later sparked a wave of boycotts in Vietnam, which has a competing claim on the disputed territories in the South China Sea. H&M social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, have been bombarded with comments demanding H&M leave Vietnam.

The fashion chain is one of several brands caught in the no-win predicament as maps used on websites and social media to help customers locate stores come from a third party – not Google Maps, which is banned in Mainland China. Other brands caught up in the controversy – whose maps with the dotted line were screenshot and posted on social media during the past few days – include Gucci, Chanel and Uniqlo.

The disputed territory sparks fierce patriotic fervour in both countries whenever brands unwittingly use the maps – in China fomented by government agencies, and in Vietnam by citizens who fear Chinese incursion into areas Vietnam considers to be part of its sovereignty.

In Vietnam’s capital city Hanoi, H&M stores have experienced subdued traffic since the controversy started. There were also boycotting quotes written on the brand’s banner outside one of these stores. However, in Ho Chi Minh City, H&M outlets didn’t record any unusual traffic. 

Entering Vietnam in 2017, H&M now operates 12 stores in the country. H&M revenue in Vietnam grew steadily in its first years of business. In 2019, H&M profit reached more than US$2.5 million. 

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