Not a single worker is making a living wage yet H&M claims to have done an amazing job

Not a single worker is making a living wage yet H&M claims to have done an amazing job

In the latest sustainability report and the accompanying public communication H&M continues to mislead the public about its progress in the area of living wage. H&M’s practice of making empty promises and bogus claims of great achievements cannot go unchallenged. Regardless of how much money and brainpower H&M pours into its corporate communication, it is an undeniable fact that workers at H&M supplier factories are still far from earning living wages.

Not a single worker is yet making a living wage

H&M’s head of sustainability claimed in an interview published on the same day as the sustainability report that H&M “have not only achieved but exceeded in all our goals” set within the five-year Fair Living Wage Strategy. The 2018 sustainability report itself attempts to create the same impression in a number of visually appealing ways. Just as the interview – quite fittingly filed under “Our stories” on H&M’s website – the fairy tale presented in the sustainability report attempts to hide the ugly truth:

In its “Roadmap towards a fair living wage” H&M promised 850,000 workers a living wage by 2018. H&M happily took the credit for that commitment in 2013, but today not a single worker is actually making a living wage.

There is a lot of evidence to support this claim: from our own field research to wage data that H&M has been publishing, and not the least a widely accessible statement by H&M’s global head of production that the number of factory workers receiving a living wage remained at “zero”.

In other words, contrary to what H&M presents in the sustainability report and elsewhere, H&M did not follow through on its promises. Instead, H&M has put a lot of effort in trying to cover up their original commitments.

Changing the story

As we have been pointing out throughout our #TurnAroundHM campaign H&M has removed the original roadmap documents from its website and is instead only making available an edited version. This version omits several specific targets and commitments, namely:

  • to “secure that we pay a price which enables our suppliers to pay their textile workers a fair living wage and reduce overtime”;
  • that 850,000 workers would be paid a living wage through improved pay structures by 2018;
  • to engage in a process with production countries’ governments to identify a living wage level, set a legal minimum wage accordingly and review wages thereafter;
    the vision that all workers employed by its commercial goods suppliers should earn a living wage.

There are many more examples of how H&M has been changing its story through the years by removing some inconvenient facts and distorting others. In this way H&M has built the foundation for making the outrageous claims of having exceeded the goals, while workers and their families continue to live in poverty.

Indeed, multiple indicators that H&M has presented as relevant for the pursuit of a living wage have little or nothing to do with what was described in the original roadmap and with actual wage improvements for workers.


Inappropriate measures of success

In its 2013 sustainability report H&M introduced the Fair Wage Method as an important part of their living wage work. H&M then took until May 2018 – the year when this “conscious action” was supposed to be implemented – to clarify what they mean by the FWM and how it is supposed to be implemented. Yet, despite the lack of a clear description of the FWM, H&M reported some results already for 2014, and continued to make claims of progress. In the 2018 Sustainability report, H&M claims to have exceeded its target because 500 factories (representing 67% of its product volume) are implementing improved Wage Management Systems, which have taken the FWM’s place as one of the Key Performance Indicators (p. 62).

Celebrating this as a success while workers are still paid poverty wages is not fitting of a company that wants to position itself as the industry’s leader and capitalize on the perception of being “sustainable”.

Another Key Performance Indicator according to H&M is the mechanism of “democratically-elected worker representation”, which may sound appealing but is, in fact, highly problematic.

In Bangladesh, for example, where H&M is the largest buyer, these worker committees are not allowed to negotiate on wages. In that light, presenting this as an achievement in relation to H&M’s living wage commitments is clearly misplaced to begin with.

Moreover, there are serious downsides to this form of worker representation in comparison with effective formal union representation, yet the narrative part of the sustainability report refers to the two as if they were interchangeable. An exception is a brief remark that, “Unions are particularly well suited to negotiate wages …” (p. 66), but H&M’s list of Key Performance Indicators say nothing about whether there is genuine freedom of association and a trade union representation at supplier factories.

Among other things, H&M fails to acknowledge that worker committees often include factory management, or are influenced by the management in other ways. For instance, the relevant section of the labour law in Bangladesh was recently improved, but it is still severely criticized by International Labor Organization and international trade unions because of the role employers are allowed to play in the election process. Furthermore, there is public evidence, for example from Human Rights Watch, that worker participation committees in Bangladesh have been used to thwart unions.

It has been well known, beyond Bangladesh, that worker committees can be used to undermine formal organizing, and that allowing workers to freely elect their representatives, while in itself positive, is no guarantee of these committees functioning as intended. Global union federations in particular have frequently warned against such ‘parallel means’. Workers should be allowed and able to organize themselves, free of any interference of factory management.

Some of H&M’s most prominent production countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Turkey display an alarming trend of increasing repression against union leaders. Instead of investing in an alternative and weaker form of worker representation H&M should make sure the repression ends and there is genuine freedom of association.


Disregard for workers’ human rights

Regardless of how much money and brainpower H&M pours into its corporate communication, it is an undeniable fact that workers at H&M supplier factories are still far from earning living wages.

Thus, H&M has so far failed to guarantee respect for a core human right that is also included in H&M’s own base code of conduct. Furthermore, the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights state that, “The responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate. It exists independently of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations, and does not diminish those obligations. And it exists over and above compliance with national laws and regulations protecting human rights”.

This means that where states fail to ensure workers are being paid a living wage – a human right according to the UN – companies are not allowed to take commercial advantage of that, and must instead themselves take effective measures to ensure that human rights are respected.

Instead of doing so, H&M is trying to evade responsibility and focusing on successes that have little or nothing to do with what was described in the original roadmap and with actual wage improvements for workers.

We are here to remind H&M and everyone else that a few nice pictures and individual stories in the sustainability report cannot make up for lack of tangible progress in the form of a living wage appearing on workers’ payslips.


H&M called to task

We have repeatedly called on H&M to take concrete steps toward a living wage actually being paid to workers as well as for transparency regarding H&M’s living wage pilots, H&M’s methodology, minimum acceptable wage levels for all production countries, the pricing structure, and the effect of efforts within multi-stakeholder initiatives such as ACT.

In addition, H&M should regularly publish up-to-date information on wages paid at each supplier factory, instead of the untransparent aggregate data for a few countries available thus far, so that progress toward the specific wage increase targets can actually be measured.

H&M should take these calls seriously. Over 150,000 people have already signed the petition demanding a living wage without delay, or have otherwise joined our ongoing #TurnAroundHM campaign, so H&M’s potential customers have clearly started to see through H&M’s corporate spin.

Tell Primark to stop the fear and support worker safety and rights

Tell Primark to stop the fear and support worker safety and rights

427 workers from Primark suppliers in Bangladesh lost their jobs after taking part in largely peaceful protests to dispute the sub-poverty minimum wage which is being paid in Bangladesh.  382 are now facing false charges bought by factory owners, and are unable to find other jobs due to systematic blacklisting[1]. Yet fast-fashion giant Primark has made no indication that it is willing to act to protect workers in Bangladesh.

Primark have just opened their world’s largest store in Birmingham.As the profits roll in on the back of Bangladeshi workers’ efforts, Primark have not publicly disputed the arrests and the dismissals, or shown any indication that they are demanding that suppliers reinstate workers and pay compensation. Furthermore, while Bangladesh faces a factory safety crisis as the Government of Bangladesh seeks to evict the Accord from the country, Primark once again are remaining silent [2].

Wednesday 24th April is the sixth anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse. Out of respect to the 1138 people who died in the disaster, Primark need to prioritise workers’ rights and the need for safe factories, and must act. Sign the petition to call on them to stop the repression at their suppliers and publicly support factory safety.

Bangladesh: Factory safety under threat

Bangladesh: Factory safety under threat

In the almost six years since the Rana Plaza collapse, the Bangladesh Accord has brought great progress to the safety situation of garment factories in Bangladesh. On 7 April however its Bangladesh office might be forced to close down because of a restraining order.

Labour Behind the Label believes that it is vital for the safety of workers that the Accord can continue as it used to in Bangladesh. We urge the government of Bangladesh to support the Bangladesh Accord’s appeal against the restraining order. This is happening in the wake of the worst repression in a decade against workers who protested for higher wages. Workers in Bangladesh deserve safe factories, living wages and freedom from repression. 

Since the accord started its vital work, 1600 factories have been inspected and are undergoing safety remediation. 89% of the original safety hazards identified like bars on windows or locks on fire escapes have been fixed. 1000+ safety committees are being trained. 97% of lockable gates have been removed. Yet there is still a lot more to do. The remaining problems that need to be fixed are structural and systematic, and arguably are the expensive and difficult ones to implement. This is why the Accord must continue.

Many worker representatives, brands and other stakeholders have spoken out in support of continued operation of the Accord from Bangladesh. 


Frequently asked questions

What is the Bangladesh Accord?

When in April 2013 the Rana Plaza building collapsed, killing at least 1,134 garment workers, this was the final incentive to start addressing the notoriously unsafe situation of many garment factories in Bangladesh. Within a few weeks, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety was established and started inspecting factories and monitoring repairs and improvements. It was much more successful than earlier attempts to improve the safety of factories in Bangladesh because it welcomed workers’ participation and was legally binding for all brands that signed on. After the initial five years that the Accord was established for a large majority of the safety issues detected were solved, but because the work was not yet done. Therefore the brands and trade unions created a Transition Accord, which would work for another three years to give the government of Bangladesh time to build up its own institutions to carry out the inspection work. Over 190 international brands are members of this programme.

Why might its Bangladesh office be forced to close?

Before the Transition Accord was due to start in June 2018, the Bangladesh High Court put a restraining order on the Accord’s inspection programme. This meant that the Accord would have to leave the country after 30 May 2018. At the request of the Bangladesh government, the High Court postponed the date to 30 November and declared that the domestic inspection agency – the Remediation and Coordination Cell – would need to be ready at that same time to take over. The Accord office has filed an appeal to lift the restraining order. The Supreme Court decision on this appeal was postponed six times since 30 November and is now due on 18 February 2019.  

Would a negative decision mean that the Bangladesh Accord must stop its work?

No, the Bangladesh Accord has a headquarters in Amsterdam and will be able to continue work from there. The brands that signed the Accord are still legally bound to the contract they signed with the Global Union Federations. The contract stipulates that brands cannot withdraw from the contract unless they fulfilled all their obligations. It will however be more difficult to inspect and monitor factories if the inspection programme is not in Bangladesh itself and inspectors might have to come from abroad. The Accord will not be able to inspect as often and thoroughly as it used to. As it is unacceptable to suggestfactories are safe while they cannot be checked properly, the Accord will have no choice but to be more strict towards factories. This means that factories that are now on notice for not carrying out their life-saving renovations fast enough will after a closing of the Accord’s Bangladesh office be categorized as unsafe to produce in, which, according to media reports, means that in the next two months more than 500 factories will be judged unfit for Accord brands to buy from.

What can brands do to prevent this?

Brands have a lot of power in Bangladesh. Around 80% of the country’s export revenue comes from the garment industry. Among the Accord members there are some of the biggest garment brands in the world and the largest buyers from Bangladesh. If these brands let their Bangladeshi suppliers and the government of Bangladesh know that they can only produce in factories that they know are safe and that at this moment the Accord is the only institution that has the capacity to carry out a credible safety programme, their voices are must have effect. Brands should therefore make their orders contractually conditional on the continuation of effective monitoring by the Accord. The Accord has filed an appeal against the restraining order. International labour organizations and trade union federations are requesting the government of Bangladesh to support this appeal.

How will the Transition Accord hand over its tasks to a national regulatory body?

The signatories to the Transition Accord are committed to hand over the inspection and remediation work of the Accord to a credible and demonstrably functioning national regulatory body. The ILO oversees the indicators for the functioning of such a body and can assess whether the readiness criteria have been reached. These indicators include full transparency, proven inspection capacity and fully operational enforcement mechanisms. For other work of the Transition Accord, notably the complaints and safety training functions, a transition plan has been developed and presented to the government. 

Are the government of Bangladesh and its national inspectorates currently ready to take over the inspection work?

September 2018 report by the Bangladesh Compact – a cooperation between Bangladesh, the European Union, the United States, Canada, Bangladesh and the International Labour Organization in order to improve conditions in the garment industry – draws a range of conclusions on the national institutions now in charge of inspecting factories in Bangladesh: Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) and the Remediation and Coordination Cell (RCC).

This includes:

  • The observation that DIFE has insufficiently followed up on its commitment to make its inspection and remediation process transparent and reports publicly available. While it has published inspection reports, the information regarding remediation is outdated and incomplete (p. 22).
  • The observation that the RCC has worked on an escalation protocol to take effect if factories do not cooperate to inspection or remediation, but that this protocol has not yet been enforced (p. 26). Recent newpaper articles also have raised doubts about the political will in the Bangladesh government and its inspection institutions to fully enforce remediation measures.
  • The observation that of the 300 Corrective Action Plans that DIFE received on the basis of the initial inspections almost all contained mistakes and only five were approved. Despite the absence of credible Corrective Action Plans, DIFE nevertheless reports a remediation percentage of 29% (against a remediation rate of 89% for the Accord). Whether this is based on approved or credible action plans cannot be checked because the DIFE public database is not up to date (p. 29).

Transparency and enforcement are two of the indicators according to which the ILO keeps track of the DIFE/RCC readiness to take over inspection work from the Accord.

How was this restraining order put in place?

One of the Bangladeshi factory owners who failed to properly inform the Accord and carry through the renovations needed to make his factory safe sued the Accord for being removed from the list of factories that Accord brands are allowed to source from. In an extraordinary unilateral action, the Bangladesh High Court used this court case to issue a Suo Moto restraining order against Accord office operations in Bangladesh, effective May 31, 2018. The restraining order was later modified and temporarily lifted, based on a submission to the High Court by the Government of Bangladesh that the Accord be allowed to operate until 30 November 2018. The order was postponed with the hearing six times since.  

Sri Lanka: Illegal dismissals prompt women worker strike

Sri Lanka: Illegal dismissals prompt women worker strike

Hundreds of women workers are taking part in longest ever running strike in the Katunayake Investment Promotion Zone, Sri Lanka.

Workers from workwear manufacturing company ATG Ceylon Pvt Ltd. in Sri Lanka have been subject to a range of human rights abuses breaching both Sri Lankan and international labour laws and conventions. Hundreds of women workers, part of the Free Trade Zone and General Services Employees’ Union (FTZ-GSEU) have been on strike for over two months. Two workers are also on hunger strike.

In March, Labour Behind the Label and War on Want handed in the petition to the Sri Lankan government at the Sri Lankan High Commission in London, calling on them to take urgent action. Partnering with global union IndustriALL, campaigners gathered over 6,000 petition signatures in five days.

The petition is still open and you can add your name by visiting www.waronwant.org/takeactionworkerssrilanka

The strike was prompted when the company illegally dismissed five workers and union members in January 2019, and allegations around violent and sexual harassment against a woman worker who was pressurised to leave both the strike and the union.

Dominique Muller, Labour Behind the Label’s international coordinator says:

“ATG Ceylon workers are now in the second month of their strike against union busting and other serious abuses of labour rights. ATG management appears to believe it is immune to Sri Lankan labour laws and international standards. We hope our ongoing solidarity with the ATG workers will make it clear that the world is watching.”

Liz McKean, War on Want’s Director of Campaigns and Policy, says:

“Workers at ATG Ceylon are facing intimidation, harassment, refused overtime pay and even unlawful dismissals as they collectively demand better working conditions. Company bosses are lining their pockets while not paying workers what they are owed and refusing to recognise the union. We urge the Sri Lankan government to protect its workers against this continual abuse.”

This is not the first time concerns have been raised about ATG Ceylon Pvt Ltd lack of respect for Sri Lankan law and workers’ rights, and we urge the Sri Lankan government to take immediate action.

New report shares good practice for advancing workers’ rights in the shoe industry

New report shares good practice for advancing workers’ rights in the shoe industry

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”3755″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Press release: Tuesday 19 December 2017

New report shares good practice for advancing workers’ rights in the shoe industry

Campaigners hope to encourage progress on workers’ rights with a new review of better practice in the shoe industry.

“How To Do Better: an exploration of better practices within the footwear industry” is published today by Labour Behind the Label and the Change Your Shoes campaign.

The campaign hopes the cases and recommendations will encourage companies, federations, policy makers and other stakeholders  to learn from the work being done by others, and that this review will allow greater cooperation between workers, civil society organisations and brands in moving forward on human rights due diligence.

The practices are assessed according to how they improved five key areas of widespread human rights violations in the shoe industry: improving working conditions, occupational health and safety, freedom of association, environmental issues and transparency and traceability across the whole supply chain.

“There are plenty of ways in which companies pursue an ethical ethos, and through our research we can see how different weight is given by different companies to ensuring ecological, organic, certified materials, or fair conditions and social compliance, in production and in countries with a high risk of human rights abuses or low environmental standards. We have sought to find different practices which present an integrated approach and are transparent enough to reveal more than a simple commitment to ‘ethical’ production”, say Dominique Muller and Anna Paluszek, the authors of the report.

The report aims to share good practice, case studies and results for others to follow, and to share with all stakeholders examples of sustainable alternatives within the shoe industry. It is not designed to be used as a shopping guide nor does it attempt to rank or rate brands.

The report presents some cases of brands (including Ethletic, Veja, Sole Rebels, Nisolo, Po Zu, Pentland, !Think and Van Lier) who work towards a more sustainable supply chain and end product, as defined by a focus on ethical and fair production, collaboration with civil society organisations and Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives and/or ecological materials grown without harm for people, animals, and the environment.

There are examples of initiatives of tripartite collaboration between main footwear industry actors such as the Fair Wear Foundation, and enforceable binding agreements on freedom of association. Numerous labels and certification systems exist, private and public, which monitor conditions in the footwear industry. The report presents initiatives addressing endemic issues in the footwear industry in a collaborative and holistic way (including Austrian Ecolabel, Bluesign, IVN).

The main finding of the report is a need for increased credibility – for brands, large or small, to make credible claims to support environmental and/or ethical standards. It is imperative that these brands always include both ecological and social criteria.

“Changes are needed to ensure meaningful due diligence by companies. Without behaviour that supports change on the ground by producers – such as increased lead times, fairer pricing systems ensuring fair working conditions and living wages – there will be little improvement for the vast majority of workers and their families”, says Stefan Grasgruber-Kerl of Change your Shoes.

Read the full report and Executive Summary