H&M developed its global Fair Living Wage Strategy in 2013

H&M developed its global Fair Living Wage Strategy in 2013

Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) has reaffirmed its position on paying a living wage to workers in its supply chain, as a new campaign claims the Swedish fashion retailer is failing to honour its commitment to do so.

The high street chain has continued to come under pressure over its progress on fair jobs and the living wage. Last month the Clean Clothes Campaign blasted the company for "bold claims" made in its recent sustainability report.

In its report, H&M points out that it developed its global Fair Living Wage Strategy in 2013, setting targets of ensuring supplier factories representing 50% of product volume should be using the method by 2018, and that 90% of business partners should regard H&M group as a fair business partner by 2018.

Clean Clothes, however, says H&M has been "steadily rephrasing and diluting" the commitment.

In its latest campaign, CCC says that, starting on 1 May and continuing throughout 2018, it will be asking H&M to "turn around and stop heading in the direction of letting down 850,000 workers who are waiting to start receiving living wages."

"By now it is clear that our scepticism was well justified," says Ineke Zeldenrust of Clean Clothes Campaign. "More than four years after H&M published the roadmap, hundreds of thousands of workers producing H&M's garments are still not receiving living wages. According to H&M's own figures, workers producing their garments in Bangladesh, for example, reportedly earned US$95 per month in 2017. Contrast that with Asia Floor Wage living wage benchmark for Bangladesh: roughly $448. It is also obvious to anyone who has followed this as closely as we have that H&M is now trying to cover up the original commitment altogether."

Judy Gearhart, executive director of International Labor Rights Forum, adds: "There's a small window of time left for the company to keep its promise to the workers in its supply chain, and H&M consumers will be watching closely to make sure the company doesn't back out of its pledge. H&M made an ambitious pledge five years ago to be an industry leader on wages, and now they need to commit the resources to make that happen."

A spokesperson for H&M acknowledges the company has a large responsibility to pay a living wage – a long-term vision for all textile workers in its supply chain.

"Even if we cannot decide directly what workers are paid, we can support the foundation for a fair living wage. That is why our goal for 2018 is that suppliers we work with the most through long-term partnerships (representing 50% of our product volume) should have democratically elected worker representatives in place, as well as stable and transparent wage systems ensuring the wages take the worker's skills, experience, performance and responsibility into account. In addition, the workers should be aware of their rights and obligations."

H&M maintains that the size and reach of its ambition is the same as in 2013 when it launched the strategy, and that the company is confident it will reach the goal.

"We have already achieved one part of the goal; those supplier factories we work with the most should have democratically elected representatives in place," the spokesperson says.

To date, the retailer says its workplace and industrial relations programmes cover 458 factories – representing 52% of product volume. The other part of the 2018 goal, to help those supplier factories H&M works with the most to implement improved wage management systems, has now been done at 227 supplier factories (representing 40% of product volume) and has reached 375,000 workers, it says.