Our first exposé is of H&M who, behind the greenwashing
and recycling campaigns, continues to thrive on the exploitation of impoverished workers.
H&M is owed by the 32nd richest man in the world, Mr Stefan Persson, who is worth $19.2bn.
This guy is rich af.
Don’t believe me? In 2015 he received permission to build a
three-storey mansion in Wiltshire, with a pool, orangery (a whole damn
conservatory of oranges), all-weather tennis courts, space for 12 cars, and six full-time staff to look after the mansion.
In 2009, he bought a whole village in Hampshire for £25m.
Yes, a VILLAGE.
So, given the abundance of wealth he has accumulated, he
must be doing the most to ensure his business is running as ethically and humanely as possible…?
Human rights abuses have been reported throughout H&M’s
production line, and across the various countries they have factories in.
Here are the most recent findings on how Mr Persson likes to treat the very people who got him that conservatory of oranges.
- In a report in 2015, workers in a Cambodian factory supplying H&M reported that their factory had been employing children under 15, who were made to do the same jobs as adults, which are very labour intensive.
- Just last summer, two writers described how children as young as 14 were being hired by factories in Myanmar producing for H&M.
Many more girls aged under 18 were found working from 7/8am ‘til about 8pm and sometimes as late as 10pm. This is no surprise, as more and more retailers have started to source their clothes
from Myanmar, which, in 2015, set one of the lowest minimum wages in the world.
- H&M have admitted to finding young Syrian
refugee children working in factories supplying clothes for them in Turkey.
- Only 7000 out of the approx. 250,000-400,000 Syrian refugees working in Turkey have work permits, so the majority are undocumented, meaning they are unable to obtain an employment contract or social security. This can lead to poor working conditions, such as earning under minimum wage and long working hours, as they are able to be easily dismissed and unable to complain about their conditions. This is the case with many garment factories in Turkey.
- In gold and platinum H&M suppliers, wages were found to fall far below living wage. For example in Cambodia, workers earned on average $187.97, but required about $240 a month just to survive. Workers in India were also given wages way below the living standard, and despite routinely working up to 17 hours a day or 8 overtime hours a day,
workers were not paid the expected overtime payment.
- Workers in one of the ‘best’ H&M suppliers explained that if workers arrived 6 to 10 minutes late their wages were reduced by $1. Lateness exceeding 10 minutes would lead to a deduction of $15.00. This
is equal to two days’ wages. Though this is not against the law, these
deductions reduce the pitiful wages they already receive. At another factory, workers stated that paid sick leave was limited to two days.
- Attendance bonus in another factory would be reduced by $2.50 and a worker’s daily wage would be lost if a worker was sick. However, this is against the law if a worker can provide a proper doctor’s certificate.
- Workers in Myanmar were found to be working for 13p
an hour in factories supplying H&M- half the minimum wage.
- Team leaders in factories supplying H&M have been found to force workers to work on their days off (Sundays and public holidays), in order to meet high production targets. When orders had to be
completed in a short space of time, workers were unable to refuse overtime. They were not paid overtime either.
- In a factory in Myanmar supplying H&M, workers reported working weeks exceeding 60 hours, with two of the workers stating that they had to work until 10pm six or seven times a month
- Regulated factories that are listed as H&M suppliers tend to outsource work to unregulated subcontractors. As these subcontractors are not listed they are practically hidden, making it more difficult to establish accountability for abuse towards garment workers. This means abuse in these subcontracted factories is also likely to be hidden. This leads to subcontractors ignoring law provisions set in place to protect workers, for example, forcing workers to work more than they should without overtime.
- Regulated factories take advantage of this and get away with abuse by stating that it hadn’t occurred under their watch and is therefore out of their control.
- For example in September 2014, a subcontractor to a publicly listed H&M supplier in Cambodia dismissed 27 workers for joining a union. As this had been conducted by a subcontractor H&M were not directly affiliated with, they simply blamed unauthorised subcontracting and denied having any responsibility.
- In another case, abuse was found to be prevalent in a textile mill in India. Women and girls as young as 15 had been lured from their homes with false promises, working 60 hours a week and living in rooms with shared bathrooms that housed up to 35 workers. Although H&M proceeded to blacklist the spinning mill they denied responsibility, with no further action taken.
- H&M supplier factories in Cambodia and India continue to employ workers on fixed duration contracts (FDCs). An FDC specifies a date for when a contract ends, and can be renewed one or more times for up to two years. If an FDC is extended so the contract is more than two years, the contract will automatically turn into an undetermined fixed duration contract (UDC).
- The UDC is better for employees because, unlike FDCs, if an employee’s position at the factory is terminated by the employer or employee, they are given a notice period, and entitled to two days of leave per week until they find a new job. If a UDC is terminated without notice or not in compliance with the given notice periods, the employee is entitled to wages and benefits equal to those they would have received during the notice period.
- By using FDCs, factories can avoid paying benefits provided by the UDCs, and do not have to provide employment to those whose
employment has been terminated. This makes it easier to terminate workers’ employment without any compensation. In some cases, workers are manipulated into terminating their employment and rejoining as new workers- denying their access to benefits associated with seniority. 
- Platinum and silver rated H&M suppliers continue to use 2-6 month short-term contracts, leaving workers in a vulnerable position
- The majority of workers in a factory in Myanmar reported that they hadn’t even signed a contract
- In a recent study, workers in 9/12 Cambodian factories reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. Only 27/201 workers knew of a committee or any other means of reporting harassment.
- Factory fires are common in the garment industry, and have led to the death of many workers who found themselves trapped in a fire due to blocked exits, barred windows, and having to jump from high buildings in an attempt to reach safety. For example, in 2010, at least 21 workers died and 50 were hurt in a factory fire which took place in a factory supplying for retailers including H&M, as they worked at night to complete orders.
- Indeed, in February 2016, a huge fire broke out at a H&M supplier in Bangladesh, Matrix Sweaters. Luckily it occurred early in the morning and most of the workers had not yet arrived for their shift. Safety renovations in this factory were far from complete, so if
the fire had started a few hours later, it would have been deadly.
- Despite promises to improve health and safety, a recent analysis of H&M’s safety action plans for their suppliers in Bangladesh indicate that many factories are still unsafe, putting hundreds of thousands of garment workers at risk should another fire take place in their
factory. Despite some signs of progress, 61% of the company’s supplier factories still do not have all required fire doors installed. In addition, 31/32 factories were all behind schedule in terms of the targets set out for them, with nearly 1000 required renovations that have still not been completed.
- In January 2016, it was reported that on average, each factory had 31 uncompleted renovations.
- To make things worse, it has been noted that this report only looked at
H&M’s highest-rated Bangladesh suppliers, which accounted for just
one-quarter of the total number of factories.
- This paints a worrying picture for those factories that are not highly rated.
- In a factory supplying H&M, workers involved in leatherwork were exposed to toxic chemicals, required to use heavy tools that can
cause injury, and were given no protective masks. In addition, no first aid boxes were available, and supervisors would dismiss workers’ injuries.
- Only 2/48 Indian garment workers interviewed in a study received safety equipment and none of the workers reported receiving any safety training. All 50 Indian supply chain workers indicated that they didn’t know of any sexual harassment establishment in their workplace.
- Workers in a factory in Myanmar supplying H&M said that they were only given protective gear when buyers or visitors would come to the factory.
- Mass faintings have become a common occurrence in Cambodia, where a large number of garment workers faint in unison. In 2011, nearly 300 Cambodian workers passed out inclothing factories supplying H&M.
- This is suggested to be due to various factors including a lack of nutrition, due to an inability to afford the correct calorific content sufficient for their level of physical activity, as well as terrible working conditions, such as overheating, limited resting periods, and a lack of food and water breaks.
- Last year, in platinum and gold rated H&M suppliers in Cambodia, workers reported excessive heat during the dry season, as well as fainting, with estimates of 2-4 workers fainting every month- 70 to 140 faintings a year.
- In a factory in Myanmar, workers noted a lack of drinking water, which made it very hard to work in the factory as it was too hot, and was poorly ventilated. In addition, workers explained that there was not enough time to go to the toilet, due to the workload.
The toilets at this factory were said to be dirty and only cleaned when buyers visited the factory.
ABILITY TO ORGANISE:
- In 9/12 factories investigated, collective bargaining (negotiating employment conditions) was not recognised by management
- In a gold-rated H&M supplier in Cambodia, 105 union members were terminated for union activity. Fifty-three were ordered back
to work on orders from the arbitration council (independent institution that helps resolve collective labour disputes), but in retaliation another 55 unionised workers were terminated. This led to a peaceful strike starting from Feb 24 2016 for 10 days until management filed an injuction. During the first days of the strike, many workers were locked inside the factory during lunch time by factory management to prevent them from joining the strike.
- Management tried various tactics to prevent the strike from continuing, including: renting land surrounding the factory so workers could not enter that area during the strike, giving $5 to workers who didn’t join the strike and providing a car to a person they believed could convince workers to not strike.
- Despite engaging in talks in efforts to reinstate the employees, H&M stated that because they were not the biggest buyer at the factory, they did not have leverage to change the
situation. They continue to do business with 13 factories owned by the parent company.
- In late Dec 2013 and early Jan 2014, more than 200,000 Cambodian garment workers took to the streets to demand higher wages.
Armed soldiers chased and attacked the workers with slingshots, batons and metal pipes.
- 10 union leaders and protesters were detained, some were severely
beaten and all were held overnight. The following day police shot and killed at least 5 striking workers. An additional 38 people, some of whom work in the H&M supply chain were hospitalised during the attack, 25 suffering from bullet wounds and 13 arrested. After a five-month global campaign, all 23 were released from prison.
- In platinum H&M suppliers in Cambodia, when a worker tries to form an independent union, they face discrimination or are forced to resign
TREATMENT OF PREGNANT WOMEN:
- Workers from 11/12 H&M supplier factories in Cambodia reported either witnessing or experiencing termination of employment
during pregnancy. As a result of their treatment, women are found to terminate pregnancies to keep their job, or will work up until the last day before delivery.
- In 4 Indian factories supplying H&M, all 50 workers reported that women were fired from their jobs during pregnancy, while
permanent workers were forced to leave without pay for period of their
Now you’ve got the facts, it is CRUCIAL that we let H&M know how we feel. The more they feel our rage, the more pressure they will feel to change. Retailers are completely dependent on consumers, so let’s give them a piece of the consumer mind!
There are many simple ways you can let them know how you
TWITTER/INSTAGRAM (tag @hm):
- Started by the Fashion Revolution team, many
people tweet or post a pic of something they bought and tag the brand they bought it from, asking them #WhoMadeMyClothes. By doing this, we are showing brands that their consumers are concerned about the workers who produce their clothes.
- You can also send them the WANTED picture with a tweet
saying something like…
@hm Despite your promises, abuse is rampant in your production line- what are you going to do to protect workers?
@hm you keep reassuring the public that you care for garment workers but the evidence shows otherwise, how can we trust you
@hm what are you doing to address the continual abuse of your garment workers?
EMAIL ( [email protected])/POST
A LETTER: (H & M Hennes & Mauritz UK Ltd, 25 Argyll
street, London, W1F 7TS)
Get a strongly worded letter/email sent
through, letting them know exactly how ya feel! Here’s an example here.
LOVE && SOLIDARITY!