H&M has committed to work towards a living wage, but the factories researched are said to be very far from reaching that goal

H&M has committed to work towards a living wage, but the factories researched are said to be very far from reaching that goal

Swedish fashion retailer H&M has again been criticised over the working conditions at some of its "best in class" supplier factories in Cambodia.

A new report, 'When 'best' is far from good enough,' suggests that even though H&M has committed to work towards a living wage, the factories researched are still a long way from achieving that goal.

Workers also reported wage cuts for arriving only a few minutes late, inadequate sick leave practices, restrictions on toilet break and faintings at the factory floor.

Shortfalls were also found at three of H&M's so called 'platinum' suppliers and one 'gold' supplier in the field of contracts and freedom of association.

The research by Cambodian NGO Center for Alliance of Labor & Human Rights (CENTRAL) and Future In Our Hands, which represents Clean Clothes Campaign in Norway, is based on interviews earlier this year with workers in four of H&M's key suppliers in Cambodia.

It claims that the average total wage per month before overtime at the three platinum suppliers in the researched period was US$172.51 – below the stipulated industry median of US$178/month. This is despite a Fair Wage Method project initiated by H&M in 2013 and rolled out to 20 strategic suppliers in Cambodia.

The average total wages per month before overtime at the three platinum suppliers – Eastex Garment Co, Seduno Investment Cambo Fashion Co and Vanco Industrial Co – were US$174.05, US$167.52 and US$175.97 respectively.

The average total wage was found to be US$235.03 at Eastex, US$216.49 at Seduno and US$202.43 at Vanco, giving a monthly average close to US$218.

While well in excess of the US$140 monthly legal minimum wage for garment workers for a standard working month of 208 hours, the total amounts per month are paid only when certain conditions are met, such as overtime work, long-term engagement and good performance.

Workers at the researched gold supplier M&V, meanwhile, have seen their average wages before overtime fall from US$181 in mid-2015 to as little as US$136 per month due to decreasing orders and less work.

H&M has committed to support factory owners to develop pay structures that enable a fair living wage, including better planning of orders and more stable purchasing practices.

Another finding was the incorrect use of short-term contracts and lack of independent unions.

Workers at three out of the four researched suppliers were engaged through short term contracts with durations of two to six months, leaving them in a vulnerable position. Although engagement of more than two years at the same factory should enititle workers to a permanent contract under Cambodian law, several workers were denied this right.

"H&M must immediately announce a zero tolerance policy for illegal contracts and monitor the rapid implementation of permanent contracts for workers engaged beyond two years at the same facility," urges Joel Preston, consultant at CENTRAL.

"The brand needs to set clear timelines for contract conversion and communicate this to the workers' representatives who will monitor the implementation."

Workers at three of the four researched suppliers expressed discontent at the absence of independent unions and lack of freedom of association. They feared being discriminated against or forced to resign if they tried to form a union and could recall specific examples of this. Some workers described a practice of deduction of membership fee from their wages without their consent.

Click here to read the full report, 'When "best" is far from good enough.'

Faced with criticism earlier this year over workplace violations in its supply chains in India and Cambodia, a spokesperson for H&M said the retailer is "dedicated to contribute to positive long-term development for the people working in the textile industry in our sourcing markets."

H&M criticised for labour abuses in India and Cambodia