H&M accused of failing to ensure living wage for supply chain workers

Fashion giant H&M has been accused of failing to fulfil a commitment to pay all garment workers enough to keep them above the poverty line, a week after claiming that almost one-million employees are covered by its "fair living wage" approach.

H&M has been accused by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) – an alliance of labour unions and NGOs aimed at championing ethical garment production – of paying its factory workers across Bulgaria, Turkey, India and Cambodia wages below the poverty line. In some facilities in Bulgaria, the CCC claims, workers are paid less than 10% of what they would need to be kept above the poverty line.

The claims, which H&M has denied, come just days after the retailer announced that more than 930,000 garment workers located in its supply chain are now covered by its “fair living wage” approach, with 84% of the company’s product volume now produced in factories that are improving wage standards and human rights approaches.

The CCC claims that H&M previously pledged to cover 100% of garment workers located in its supply chain with the scheme by 2018 and has accused the company of “moving the goalposts” to make its actions seem more impactful.

In 2013, the retailer committed to ensure that all of its strategic suppliers had pay structures in place to offer a fair living wage by 2018. At that point, H&M believed that the move would reach 850,000 workers. The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) will conduct an independent evaluation of H&M’s strategy later in the year, outlining the next steps to reach the overarching target.

The CCC’s public outreach co-ordinator Neva Nahtigal accused last week’s H&M announcement of being “based on deception” around the retailer’s 2013 commitment.

“Instead of empty public relations talk, we want to see transparent changes in the real wages of workers in H&M’s supply chain,” The International Labour Rights Forum’s executive director Judy Gearhart added.

“As we have written to the company’s top ranks before, they need to publish a roadmap with time-bound, measurable wage level increase targets, detailing how H&M will change purchasing practices to make sure workers get a living wage.”

The claims from the CCC comes after the body interviewed 62 workers at garment factories which supply H&M, with numerous workers claiming that they work more overtime than the legal maximum.

During the interviews, several workers told the CCC that they had fainted at work, with all interviewees claiming they were afraid of organising in unions to demand better working conditions. Carried out as part of the CCC’s “Turn Around, H&M!” campaign, the interviews also revealed that some workers could not afford to send their children to school or to buy or rent a home of their own.

‘A shared view’?

H&M has refuted the CCC’s claims and insists that all of its suppliers have signed up to its Sustainability Commitment, which requires them to pay at least the minimum wage, to keep overtime hours within legal limits and to follow national laws.

A spokesperson for H&M told edie that the company “regularly” follows up on ethical standards at its suppliers, and will end its business relationship with any given supplier if it is found to fall foul of its commitment requirements.

“The claims [from the CCC] that a number of supplier factories producing for H&M group do not pay minimum wages have not been confirmed by our comprehensive audits and assessment programmes ensuring factories live up to our minimum requirement,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson additionally claimed that H&M and the CCC are “working towards the same vision” of ensuring that all textile workers achieving a fair wage – but said the two organisations did not agree on the current state of ethics in the sector, or on how progress could best be made.

“Firstly; there is no universally agreed level for living wages, and secondly; wage levels should be defined and set by the parties on the labour market through fair negotiations between employers and workers representatives, not by Western brands. This is something we, industry experts, the UN-body ILO and trade unions agree upon.” the H&M spokesperson added.

The spokesman highlighted the fact that H&M has partnered with the likes of Sida, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and IF Metall to train management and workers in exemplary workplace cooperation and dispute resolution.

The company also works collaboratively with the IndustriALL Global Union through the ACT platform, which helps retailers to revamp approaches to bargaining agreements and responsible purchasing practices, the spokesperson added.

Sarah George

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