Winnipeg is seeing huge growth in the number of international powerhouse brands popping up. Ikea, Target, Victoria’s Secret, Bed Bath & Beyond and Marshalls are fairly recent additions, with H&M opening tomorrow and Anthropologie in October. H&M is known for cheap and fast fashion, and I’ll admit to having been really tempted to buy their maternity clothes when I was pregnant – the idea of looking good at an affordable price was really appealing. Since we didn’t have an H&M in Winnipeg at the time I didn’t know much about the company, but after a bit of research here’s what I learned:
H&M has a pretty large section of their website dedicated to sustainability. They promote their organic and recycled materials, water stewardship, plan to pay a fair living wage, etc. There are seven commitments listed on the website, each one being tracked by H&M as “more to do,” “is on track” or “done.” Goals include paying a living wage by 2018, and sourcing all cotton in their range from more sustainable sources by 2020. Recently, H&M announced that it would begin manufacturing in Ethiopia, supporting the growing textile manufacturing industry.
Sounds great, right? The problem, though, is that their plan isn’t very specific. According to the website, a living wage would cover basic needs, but besides that there has been no wage decided on, and the strategy is vague. Even if an adequate wage is set, taking until 2018 to pay a living wage is ridiculous. In 2012, when it was reported that workers in Eastern Europe were making 0.50 euros/hour, H&M claimed it wasn’t their responsibility as a foreign company to determine what a living wage is. The timeline is simply not quick enough, and their goal to source all cotton from more sustainable sources means hardly anything at all. In many cases, measurable goals are not listed, and the wide spectrum of commitments could be seen as an attempt to cover all the buzz words, without making very many changes. As a consumer, I’d far rather see one measurable goal reached for and accomplished, than many goals “on track.” There is concern that intentions to open a factory in Ethiopia may not be as honourable as they sound, given Ethiopia currently has no nationally set minimum wage.
H&M has made some progress: they are supportive of workers negotiating their wages, and are training them on worker’s rights. They were one of the first companies to sign an agreement in Bangladesh to promote safe factories. There is a long way to go, and some key elements missing, but I’ll hope that the living wage they are implementing will indeed be enough for workers to live on, and if it is I’ll look forward to shopping there…in 2018.