Press Release: Labour groups demand H&M deliver ‘safety conscious’ fashion

Press Release: Labour groups demand H&M deliver ‘safety conscious’ fashion

For immediate release

Labour Behind the Label

7th April 2016


Labour Rights groups demand H&M deliver ‘safety conscious’ fashion


Labour rights groups in Europe, Bangladesh and North America are demanding that H&M finally keep its promises to make its Bangladeshi supplier factories safe. In the run up to H&M’s 2016 Annual General Meeting in Solna, Sweden on May 3rd, labour rights groups are increasing pressure on the fashion brand. A review of corrective action plans relating to 32 of H&M’s strategic suppliers, carried out this week, shows that the majority of these factories still lack adequate fire exits nearly three years after H&M committed to improve working conditions by signing the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.


The call to action comes as the Swedish fast fashion retailer increases attempts to promote its sustainability commitments in the face of growing criticism of worker rights abuses in its supply chains. The launch of H&M’s “Conscious Exclusive Collection,” taking place today at the Louvre in Paris, is one of several events H&M is holding to promote itself as a “sustainable” company. This will be followed by the launch of a video by pop star M.I.A. to promote H&M’s “World Recycle Week,” scheduled for the April 18-24, the same week that labour rights activists will commemorate the 1,134 workers killed by the Rana Plaza building collapse. That devastating garment industry disaster in 2013 originally led to the signing of the Bangladesh Accord.


Workers’ rights advocates have called on H&M to prove its commitments through action rather than stunts. They are specifically urging the company by ensure that three vital repairs – the removal of locks from fire exits, the removal of sliding doors and collapsible gates, and the installation of fire-rated doors and enclosure of stairwells – are completed by the time of the company’s Annual Meeting on May 3rd.


The importance of such repairs was once again underscored by a huge fire at a H&M supplier, Matrix Sweaters Ltd, in February. Only a handful of people suffered injuries, largely due to the fact that most workers had yet to arrive for their shift. The Accord’s inspection report for the factory revealed that it had missed dozens of deadlines to eliminate fire hazards and make the structure safe. Had the fire broken out just an hour later, scores of workers may have been trapped inside.


As a response to H&M’s inaction, the Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, and United Students Against Sweatshops have launched a campaign demanding H&M address its broken promises, with a campaign website, www.hmbrokenpromises.com.





1. Labour Behind the Label is the UK platform of the Clean Clothes Campaign. The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) works to improve conditions and support the empowerment of workers in the global garment industry. The CCC has national campaigns in 15 European countries with a network of 250 organisations worldwide.
2. Labour Behind the Label will be organising a shop action alongisde War on Want in London outside H&M’s Oxford Street shop in the week running up to the Rana Plaza anniversary. For more info please contact Anna McMullen: anna@labourbehindthelabel.org.
3. There will be store actions taking place across Europe and North America on 3rd May outside H&M stores to coincide with H&M’s AGM. For more info on where an action is taking place please see: www.hmbrokenpromises.com.


Blog: Buying ethically?

Blog: Buying ethically?

Behind the glamour of London Fashion Week and the aspirational images in glossy magazines is the reality of the global fashion industry: a grim picture of women living in abject poverty, struggling to survive whilst making the clothes sold on UK high streets for major fashion brands.

As consumers, many of us try to counteract this image by choosing to buy ethically. In the face of sweatshop labour headlines we may opt for the brand that seemingly has an ethical stance, hoping our money will reflect our morals. However, how can we be sure that this is the case? A lack of transparency throughout the garment and shoe industries mean that making ethical choices is not as simple as it may seem.

High street brands such as Marks & Spencer (M&S) and H&M proudly put their ethical credentials front and centre, with marketing for both brands focusing on good practice including eco collections, clothes recycling, sustainable sourcing and workers rights. Both brands have won plaudits for their ethics, with M&S receiving over 100 awards since launching Plan A, including being named ‘Most Ethical High Street Clothing Retailer’ by Ethical Consumer Magazine in 2014, winning consumer trust and increased sales.

Crucially, as poverty remains a key factor in maintaining the cycle of sweatshop labour, both brands have publicly declared a commitment to ensuring a living wage is possible for garment workers in their supply chains. In 2010, M&S launched their Plan A sustainability programme – pledging to ensure suppliers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were able to pay workers ‘a fair living wage’ by 2015. H&M is working towards paying 850,000 garment workers a fair living wage by 2018.

Yet are these ethics being played out on the factory floor? Do the workers actually making their clothes feel the effects of commitments to a living wage? We interviewed 150 M&S workers from eight supplier factories in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India, and over 50 workers from six H&M supplier factories in Cambodia to see whether the significant wage increase promised was being paid.

Our findings, in our new report ‘Do We Buy It?’, show that far from a living wage these workers are living in abject poverty, sharing slum housing in 3×3 meter shacks, with 2-3 other workers. Many have no running water and share outside toilets with up to 15 people. These women work 10 – 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and yet still don’t earn enough to afford the basics such as nutritious food or an education for their children.

Salaheya Khatun, a worker for a Bangladeshi M&S supplier says: “I am in debt by around 1000 taka every month because I need to pay for groceries and supplies on credit. It is difficult because if I had cash I could negotiate on the price, but I cannot negotiate when paying credit. Buying on credit feels like a disgrace…I just want to be able to support my family.”

Salaheya is not alone. In fact, we found that 60% of all M&S workers interviewed were living in mounting debt just to meet their basic needs. In Sri Lanka, M&S workers were earning on average £3.23 for a 10 hour day. Illegal levels of overtime were common, with women working up to 110 hours per month over their contracted hours, and still remaining in debt. One worker from India stated: “Our income is not enough. We don’t buy eggs, meat, fish or fruits because of high costs”

This is not the tagline to M&S’s award-winning Plan A sustainability roadmap.

So, what can we do to challenge the notion that brands can so wholly control their image through corporate social responsibility rhetoric?

We can demand transparency

M&S stated in the 2014 Plan A report that the commitment on supply chain living wage had been ‘achieved’, but they give no evidence to back this up. M&S use an internal process to evaluate their position, with no data or costs available. This lack of transparency, present throughout the garment and shoes industries, makes checking on the facts behind the statements virtually impossible. Similarly, H&M have not published a benchmark for the ‘fair living wage’ that they are aiming for is. Without this figure it is difficult to measure their success.

For consumers to truly be able to choose to shop ethically, we need to know that the human rights of the workers making the products are being upheld. We need to know by having access to data that proves it, not by simply being asked to believe brands who profit in the millions from the labour of the young, poor, migrant and uneducated women they exploit.

Brands need to publicly declare their benchmark for a living wage and share their factory supplier lists, their audit reports, and other important data such as wages paid per supplier by grade. We need to hold brands accountable to their promises. Only once they supply this information can their ethical marketing be taken as anything more than CSR spin.

By Ilana Winterstein

February 2016

Report: Do We Buy It? A supply chain investigation into living wage commitments from M&S and H&M

Report: Do We Buy It? A supply chain investigation into living wage commitments from M&S and H&M

Report: Do We Buy It?

A supply chain investigation into living wage commitments from M&S and H&M

This report looks into the stories behind two leading high-street brands who have made claims to be ensuring a fair living wage is possible for workers who make their clothes. H&M and M&S have received significant acclaim for headline commitments to a living wage. Real wages being paid in their factories however are not yet delivering on their promises.

Download the report here >>

Published February 2016.

New report shows M&S living wage commitment to be misleading

New report shows M&S living wage commitment to be misleading

Have you ever wondered if the public statements high-street brands make about their ethics are backed up with facts? Our new report, ‘Do We Buy It?’, looks into the stories behind two leading high-street brands who have made claims to be ensuring a fair living wage is possible for workers who make their clothes.

Marks and Spencer (M&S) set out publicly in 2010 a plan to ensure that, by 2015, suppliers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh would be able to pay a ‘fair living wage’ to workers. H&M similarly launched a fair living wage promise in December 2013, aiming to have a system in place to allow workers to be paid this ‘fair wage’ by 2018. Both M&S and H&M are receiving public recognition for these claims, (not least from Labour Behind the Label in terms of high marks in our reports!) but can we trust what they say?

Our research set out to find if M&S’s scheme had been effective, and if H&M’s new scheme had started to make a difference.

The results: Low wages, slum housing, little evidence of change

The report shows that workers at M&S suppliers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, despite efforts, continue to be paid poorly, forcing them to live in abject poverty, sharing slum housing and often working illegal levels of overtime – up to 110 hours a month over contracted hours. 60% of workers interviewed were struggling with mounting debt just to meet their basic needs.

In Sri Lanka workers interviewed were paid an average of £3.23 a day, including overtime (a ten hour day). In months with high production quotas workers would be made to work 100 hours overtime a month, twelve hour days, 40 hours over the legal limit. Often workers lived in small rooms, 3x3m, shared by two or more workers. 75% of workers did not have running water or access to a tap, and most were sharing an outside toilet with 10 or more others.

In India workers reported food and education expenses were difficult to meet on their wages, with one worker stating: “Our income is not enough. We don’t buy eggs, meat, fish or fruits because of high costs”.

I am in debt by around 1000 taka every month because I need to pay for groceries and supplies on credit…Buying on credit feels like a disgrace. I need to find work at a factory with a higher salary. If my factory increased the wage I would stay, but right now it is not enough. I just want to be able to support my family.


Salaheya, an M&S worker from Bangladesh


Our investigation into H&M’s living wage promise was less conclusive. We sought out H&M strategic suppliers in Cambodia to analyse their wage levels. Wages had increased, but not enough to meet a living wage level. In some factories, piece rate systems had been put in place causing workers to skip breaks, and leaving them exhausted and prone to regular illness. Average take home pay came in at $187.97 a month (£123.71) but workers estimated they needed $230 a month to live with dignity.

Why did it fail?

Certain assumptions in M&S’s scheme were clearly not overcome. Like the fact that they are one of many brands in all their supplier factories, and yet were trying to work alone on this scheme. And the fact that their method to raise wages largely relied on trying to improve ‘efficiency’ at a factory level as the main way of increasing wages (which aside from the fact that workers should not be made to work twice as hard to improve their pay, has been shown repeatedly to not increase wages that much). A failure to engage with unions, and to be open about their scheme and how workers could be involved in making it a success was probably also at the root.

M&S has made collaboration on the living wage a key priority for its Plan A from 2015 onwards, but we hope this will mean that as a brand they make an attempt to have a significant impact on the lives of the workers who make their goods, not just talk about it.

H&M’s process has not yet failed. But we would urge them strongly to consider the reasons why the M&S scheme didn’t get off the ground – a reliance on ‘efficiency savings’, a failure to act collaboratively, and a failure to be open and transparent about progress.

What is needed now?

Although a lot of noise has been made by both H&M and M&S about their intention to improve wages, there has been little sign that this is actually making a difference to workers. Consumers can be forgiven for not knowing this fact given the sheer amount of ethical marketing put out by both brands; marketing that is rarely backed up by verifiable facts. Even relatively informed consumers are led to assume that ethical marketing must be based on some amount of genuine change. But in both cases, the scale of the communications operations in retail countries, compared to the impact or scope of the ethical initiatives they refer to, is, in our opinion, quite shockingly disproportionate.

There is a clear need for greater transparency to ensure company commitments are backed up by fact. It is not sufficient for companies to be able to make claims about key human rights issues without supplying the quantifiable data that allows these claims to be independently checked, and for workers and consumers to hold them to their promises. Companies must publish, not only supplier lists, but audit reports, and other important data such as wages paid per supplier by grade if they are to make public statements about performance on wages. Experience from other sectors shows that providing credible information at all levels about product supply chains stimulates strong accountability and engagement from external parties. This is a vital part of ensuring change actually happens where it matters: in the lives of workers.

Download the report as a PDF