Committed to providing sustainably sourced materials and 100 per cent circular fashion, Swedish clothing retailer H&M is making every effort to understand and take up the issues of its partner countries, from where it sources its garments.
That is to say, the issues concerning the textile and garment workers of China, Bangladesh, India, Cambodia and Turkey (which are some of the world’s biggest garment producing nations, and happens to be H&M’s key sourcing markets) are being constantly thought over and discussed by the company’s sustainability division, and has also been amply highlighted in its Conscious Actions Sustainability Report 2015, published on Thursday.
H&M, which does not own any factories, sources its clothing from the 820-odd independent suppliers, with whom they share a close long-term partnerships. Their products are made in about 1,900 factories, which employ about 1.6 million people worldwide. Out of these people, around 60 per cent are women.
Apart from environmental standards, the company also takes care to ensure no human rights standards are violated, including the rights and safety of the women workers as well as to ensure no children are employed anywhere across the value chain, which is in fact a herculean task, given the large number of set-ups and the intensive labour work required to complete the world’s massive demands.
In its report, the brand has claimed to made much headway in eradicating child labour in the textile industry, while admitting that systemic challenges, such as long working hours and lack of functioning industrial relations are still common issues in many markets.
Besides, living wages and workplace safety are key concerns in its partner nations, particularly Bangladesh and Cambodia.
“We use our influence to promote better working conditions, ensure that human rights are respected and reduce environmental impacts throughout our value chain – from working with individual factories to pushing for systemic change in countries and in the textile industry,” the report read. “This includes working for fair living wages and decent working hours for all garment workers. We stand behind the right to freedom of association and work systematically to strengthen industrial relations and collective bargaining… We choose and reward responsible partners, who share our values and are willing to work transparently with us to improve their social and environmental performance.”
“We have set the vision of becoming 100 per cent circular. In close dialogue with experts and stakeholders we will set time-bound milestones to reach this goal. This will take us closer to our goal; to lead the change towards fully circular and sustainable fashion,” says Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M. “We want to use our size and scale to lead the change towards fully circular and truly sustainable fashion,” she added.
Along with establishing good partnership with its suppliers, the brand has taken up the onus of ensuring several key issues concerning the workers’ health and safety like fire and building safety, excessive overtime, freedom of association, industrial relations, use of energy, water and chemicals to mention a few.
The report also focussed on issues like labour rights in Indian spinning mills, land rights in Ethiopia and Myanmar and or issues with fixed-term working contracts in Cambodia. For these they collaborate their efforts with suppliers, governments, industry peers, NGOs, unions and other parties to arrive at a lasting solution.
In the past three years, the brand’s e Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) programme has made substantial headway in addressing alleged exploitation of textile workers in different parts of the world.
One of their other programmes, the Fair Wage Method, has also helped in building on their promises of a more sustainable future for the textile and fashion industry.
“During 2015, 68 of our strategic supplier factories in China, Bangladesh and Cambodia enrolled in the Fair Wage Method and by the end of 2016, we expect to see the first results,” the report read. “For 2016, we will continue scaling up by adding 78 more factories in Indonesia, India and Turkey. Our goal is to reach all of our strategic supplier factories by 2018 at the latest.”
On making workers and middle managers in supplier factories of India and Bangladesh aware about their rights, H&M’s report states: “In 2008, we teamed up with suppliers and local NGOs in Bangladesh to develop a series of short films and training packages in order to increase awareness of workers’ rights. In 2013, we expanded this programme to India. During 2015, 234 factories out of 287 (82%) were trained in Bangladesh. In India, the number of factories was 73 out of 146 (50%).”
Another key aspect on which H&M has bee focusing is saving water. A lot of water is required in the textile industry — right from producing the fibre to making the garments. As part of H&M’s several conservationist efforts, the brand has extended its various initiatives to Ethiopia, Turkey, India, Bangladesh and China. The company aims to have water-efficient equipment at all of its stores, warehouses and offices by 2020 by the latest.
Among the other key concerns and initiatives mentioned in H&M’s sustainability report included zero discharge of hazardous chemicals and availability of safe drinking water.