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In a recent article on the ABC news online website, H&M’s head of sustainability talked about how there is “no conflict between its mission to sell more budget clothes and a drive to improve the environment and working conditions at its suppliers.” Ironic coming from one of the biggest buyers of garments from Bangladesh, a country now notorious for its less than ideal working conditions for garment workers. In fact, last year the company was second-to-last in a perceived sustainability ranking in its biggest market Germany.
While the company has been making slow strides to embracing eco-conscious ideals through specified lines and products, they have really focused on the topic of working conditions and wages ever since the Rana plaza building collapse last year. The article talked about how the company is becoming “more critical of the use of cheap labor”. However, for a number of years workers in countries such as Bangladesh have been paying the price for the fast fashion that has become the cornerstone of H&Ms brand.
Over the last year, H&M has been focused on lobbying the governments of countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia to raise the minimum wage. In November of 2013, the retail giant “laid out a plan to pay a fair “living wage” to some 850,000 textile workers by 2018.” Furthermore, the company was the first to sign the pact to improve safety conditions at Bangladesh garment factories. With ambitious goals and a focus on creating a more sustainable image, it will be interesting to see what the company will actually accomplish as 80% of its merchandise comes from Asian suppliers.
The company also employs 100 auditors to check on its 850 suppliers and has stated that sustainability will help them with long term profitability. With new eco-friendly lines on the way, a pledge to use only organic cotton by 2020, a goal to phase out toxic chemicals and a focus on producing more in new regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, time will tell whether the impact of the company is positive or negative?
While their goals are admirable and could lead to amazing results, this could all potentially just be a publicity stunt. As consumers, we must hold this brand accountable for the public commitments they have made.
Just a reminder: Spread the word about social enterprise (#SocEnt) by sharing the #GlobalLove Campaign with your friends and loved ones this Valentine’s Day. Purchase an ethically-made or fairtrade product, learn about social enterprise and share it through Twitter and Facebook.