by Charlie Whitehand
Many workers making H&M’s clothes are living below the poverty line. Fair living wages were promised, poverty wages are the reality.
In 2013 H&M committed to ensuring living wages for 850,000 workers in their supply chain by 2018. The clock is ticking and workers are still dependent on wages that are far from satisfactory.
Conveniently for H&M, this promise brought the brand a great deal of positive press and media coverage, but was it all just a PR stunt? They proceeded by removing the original documents that state the terms of their promise from their website. It is clear they are trying to shirk responsibility and cover up all commitment claiming that this was not a promise that they made at all.
This has left hundreds of thousands of workers still earning poverty wages and struggling to survive in poor conditions. Their hard work is going unnoticed and
being hidden behind glossy storefronts. Without a sufficient living wage workers are forced to work overtime that exceeds the legal maximum or multiple jobs to afford to support their families. Many have had no choice but to put their children to work instead of in school as well as frequently working Sundays.
H&M produce elaborate Corporate Social Responsibility reports as well as pilot schemes and roadmaps, but it is clear that these are just a means of short-term distraction. The company have the financial capacity (USD 2.6 billion) to uphold the promises that they make as well as covering the whole supply chain in difficult times, but are refusing to use these resources.
Research has been gathered and workers have been interviewed in several countries including Bulgaria, Turkey, Cambodia and India. Workers in India and Turkey are said to earn about a third and in Cambodia less than a half of the estimated living wage. In Bulgaria, the salary at H&M’s ‘gold supplier’ is not even 10% of the required
wage. A worker at a factory in India said, “The wages are so low that we have to work overtime just to cover our basic needs.”
Bulgarian workers also reported that working overtime was necessary just to earn the statutory minimum wage, saying, “You enter the factory at 8 in the morning, but you never know when you will be able to leave. Sometimes we go home at 4 AM.” In addition to this, workplace faintings have become a regular occurrence, as a result of malnutrition and fatigue.
H&M needs to take action immediately to stop the scandal of poverty wages and worker’s rights violations destroying their reputation as a brand. They must start to show transparent changes in the wages of workers in their supply chain in order to be trusted by consumers in the future.
The “Turn Around, H&M!” campaign supports a petition by WeMove.Eu that demands living wages and fair employment conditions for staff in the company’s supply chain.