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Industry watchdog launches campaign against H&M over living wage

By Vivian Hendriksz

May 1, 2018

London - Tuesday, May 1 marks International Labour Day, a global celebration of all the labourers. It is also the day industry watchdog the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) kicks off its campaign against Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M for failing to uphold its pledge to pay 850,000 garment workers a living wage by 2018.

It all stems back to November 2013, when Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M), was praised for introducing a new strategy which would ensure 850,000 garment workers producing their products across 750 factories would be paid a "fair living wage" by the end of 2018. H&M's plan was announced months after the most horrific accident in the history of the garment industry took place, namely Rana Plaza, and saw the fashion retailer address a number of areas within its purchasing practices, supplier practices as well as workers' rights and local governments.

H&M called on to uphold its 'Living Wage' Commitment from November 2013

As the world's second-biggest apparel company, following swiftly behind Spanish giant Inditex, H&M stressed that it felt "wage development in production countries, which is often driven by governments, is taking too long" and that it has the power to "contribute to a positive change." H&M included its new living wage strategy in its Code of Conduct and started a pilot programme at two factories, one in Bangladesh and one in Cambodia. The goal was to roll out this programme to 750 factories, which produced approximately 60 percent of H&M's products. "H&M's strategic suppliers should have pay structures in place to pay a fair living wage' in 2013," wrote H&M in its roadmap.

However, since then H&M has changed its benchmarks and its language regarding its living wage strategy shift. In its 2017 Sustainability Report, H&M stated that its aim was to have "improved wage management systems in places" at supplier factories representing 50 percent of its product volume, a move which concerns workers' rights organisations like CCC. At the moment H&M works with approximately 1,900 suppliers around the world, the majority of which are in low-cost production countries where manufacturing industries are rife with low wages, unsafe working conditions, and physical/sexual abuse.

"H&M made an ambitious pledge five years ago to be an industry leader on wages, and now they need to commit the resources to make that happen"

Judy Gearhart, executive director of International Labor Rights Forum

H&M's failure to share a living wage benchmark, rather than just improved wage has caused CCC to launch its new campaign against them. "By now it is clear that our skepticism was well justified," said Ineke Zeldenrust, campaign director at the CCC in a statement. "More than four years after H&M published the roadmap, hundreds of thousands of workers producing H&M’s garments are still not receiving living wages. According to H&M’s own figures, workers producing their garments in Bangladesh, for example, reportedly earned 95 USD per month in 2017. Contrast that with Asia Floor Wage living wage benchmark for Bangladesh: roughly 448 USD."

"It is also obvious to anyone who has followed this as closely as we have that H&M is now trying to cover up the original commitment altogether," she added. While H&M maintains that it has always been their long-term vision that "all textile workers should have a wage they can live on", even if the company "cannot decide directly what workers are paid", the Clean Clothes Campaign argues that H&M continues to dilute its previous commitment to paying living wages. According to H&M latest sustainability report, its new aim is that long-term supplier factories use the fair wage method. However, H&M does not state if this will lead to its workers being paid a living wage by 2018, despite previously pledging to "measure workers own perception of receiving a wage covering their basic needs," which would be used as a guide to paying living wages.

In its new campaign "Turn around, H&M!" the Clean Clothes Campaign, together with the International Labour Rights Forum and other international partners, aims to ensure consumers around the world are made aware of H&M's living wage commitment from 2013 and the fact that H&M does have the financial means and other resources to live up to its commitment. "There's a small window of time left for the company to keep its promise to the workers in its supply chain, and H&M consumers will be watching closely to make sure the company doesn't back out of its pledge," added Judy Gearhart, executive director of International Labor Rights Forum. "H&M made an ambitious pledge five years ago to be an industry leader on wages, and now they need to commit the resources to make that happen."

Photos: Courtesy of H&M