A company that I regularly shop at, and had believed to be very socially responsible, is H&M. H&M is a popular clothing retailer that operates across the globe, and online. Their website even has a page titled “Sustainability” with the tagline “look good, do good, feel good” (H&M, 2017). The website outlines H&M’s actions towards sustainable supply chains, recycling textiles, labor regulations, and animal welfare. While H&M may seem very responsible on the surface, they have had their downfalls in the past.
H&M claims that they are able to offer quality clothes at an affordable price by choosing the most sustainable, yet cheapest strategies throughout the supply chain. For example, H&M uses ships to transport merchandise. This is not only cheaper than aircraft, but causes less air pollution. H&M also does their own audits on suppliers to ensure they are compliant with certain environmental standards, such as wastewater treatment, and restrictions on certain chemicals (H&M, 2017).
H&M encourages customers to bring in old clothing, rather than throwing it out. The customer receives a discount on their next purchase, and the fabrics are recycled into new textiles, instead of ending up in a landfill. H&M says they have collected over 32,000 tons of fabric since 2013, which is the equivalent to 100 million t-shirts (H&M, 2017).
In recent years though, it was revealed that some of the producers of H&M’s clothes were not operating under the guidelines that H&M claimed they enforced. H&M had initiated a project called the Fair Wage Method in 2013, pledging to help workers earn a living wage. Wages were not meeting industry medians, and in some cases, not even the garment sector’s minimum wage of $140 per month (Clean Clothes, 2016).
A report released by the Cambodian NGO Center for Alliance of Labor & Human Rights Cambodian NGO Center for Alliance of Labor & Human Rights also stated that H&M suppliers were leaving workers in vulnerable positions with short-term contracts. Workers who had been with the factories for two years and earned the right to permanent contract, were being denied that right (Clean Clothes, 2016).
I believe H&M may be pulling the wool over the eyes of some consumers who believe they are green for the environment. While they do choose more environmentally friendly options for their supply chain, these options are also the cheapest for them , so it may make their true motives unclear.
They also try to cut corners when it comes to labor, making up for any lost profits they may incur from other green initiatives. I think the main source of this problem is that H&M conducts their audits themselves (H&M, 2017). This would allow them to manipulate audits and overlook issues that violate their own standards.
Clean Clothes Campaign. (2016, September 23). Labour Rights Violations in H&M’s “Best in Class” Supplier Factories in Cambodia. Retrieved from https://cleanclothes.org/news/press-releases/2016/09/22/labour-rights-violations-in-h-ms-best-in-class-supplier-factories-in-cambodia
H&M. (2017). FAQ: Our Responsibility . Retrieved from https://www.hm.com/us/customer-service/faq/our-responsibility