IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina, H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson and IF Metall president Anders Ferbe sign the global framework agreement

IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina, H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson and IF Metall president Anders Ferbe sign the global framework agreement

Swedish fashion retail giant H&M has pledged to improve labour rights for 1.6m garment workers at its supplier factories – in a move that should also contribute to the creation of more stable sourcing markets.

The retailer has teamed up with the IndustriAll Global Union and Sweden's IF Metall union to sign a global framework agreement to enhance relations and dialogue between employers, employees and unions at the 1,900 or so factories that make H&M products.

The agreement is based on a shared conviction that collaboration is key to achieving fair living wages and improved working conditions in the supply chain.

Beginning next year, the work will initially focus on supplier factories in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Turkey.

Plans include setting up national monitoring committees to ensure the agreement is implemented from the factory floor upwards, and to promote dialogue between employers and employees in order to solve conflicts peacefully – primarily at the factory level where they arise.

There will also be training for both management and union representatives on employers’ responsibilities, workers’ rights and obligations, industrial relations, and collective bargaining agreements.

And workers will be able to refuse unsafe work as part of their health and safety rights, while their representatives will not be discriminated against.

“Well-functioning industrial relations including collective bargaining are keys to achieving fair living wages and improved working conditions in our supply chain,” says H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson.

“We believe that the collaboration with IndustriAll and IF Metall will contribute to our already ongoing work within this field as well as help to create stable sourcing markets.”

H&M was one of the first signatories of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, set up following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in 2013.

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“We believe that well-functioning industrial relations are necessary when working towards a more sustainable textile industry,” the company said following the launch of the global framework agreement (GFA) yesterday (3 November). “A development in this direction is positive for all parties – textile buyers, suppliers, factory employees, trade unions and governments.”

However, the retailer also notes this is a complex issue. “Many of the countries where H&M operates have little experience of a good dialogue by the parties on the labour market. Therefore, we have a unique opportunity to push this development in a positive direction.”

IndustriAll general secretary Jyrki Raina, believes the new agreement “cements the path towards a sustainable garment industry with unionised workforce, constructive labour-management relations, living wages through industry level collective agreements, and safe workplaces.”

Collaborative change

Several initiatives have been unveiled in recent months that focus on collaboration between companies to improve the rights and welfare of apparel workers. 

One new initiative – ACT – has been set up by the IndustriAll Global Union and brands including H&M, Inditex and Primark, to try and change the way companies source garments to ensure higher wages can be paid.

Starting in Cambodia, it will try to link the supply chain responsibilities of buyers to the collective bargaining process between local unions and employers.

Another, also involving H&M along with Gap Inc, PVH Corp, Nike and Levi Strauss aims to develop a single industry-wide standard for social and labour compliance, and free up funds to invest in factory safety and ethics. The Social and Labour Convergence Project is being led by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC).

While H&M has recently been criticised by labour rights groups after some supplier factories Bangladesh fell behind on fire and building safety repairs, the retailer is also contributing to a new US$5.4m initiative funded by the Government of Sweden to enhance workplace rights and industrial relations in Bangladesh. Its goal is for all its supplier factories in the country to be covered by the project during 2018.

And it is scaling up its fair living wage efforts with plans to add all of its strategic suppliers by 2018 - and is updating its purchasing practices to support those suppliers.

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