It seems like a month can't go by without another question, even scandal, about H&M's labor standards. After the factory collapse of Rana Plaza, H&M promised to be a leader among fast fashion brands in promoting strong new labor regulations. CEO Karl-Johan Persson famously said that "fast fashion can be cheap and ethical."
In November 2013, the retail giant announced its vision and roadmap for fair living wages in supplier factories, with the goal of improving pay structures for 850,000 textile workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia by 2018.
Since then? H&M has been hit by a series of scandals as improvements have been rare to non-existent.
In fact, Athit Kong, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said that H&M’s PR promises “ring hollow to workers who are struggling every day to feed their families." calling it “a public-relations facade to cover up systemic abuse.”
In a survey of 50 workers from five factories in India and 201 workers from 12 factories in Cambodia from August to October 2015, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance found that overtime work was expected and rarely compensated for.
Perhaps that's because H&M plans to open over 400 new stores this year alone (at a pace of +1 stores per day). In Cambodia, workers reported being forced to work 2+ hours of overtime a day. In India, workers could regularly be expected to stay at the factory 17 hours daily.
At one factory in India, workers are “routinely required to work until 2 a.m. in order to meet production targets—and then to report to work at 9 a.m.,” according to Asia Floor Wage Alliance.
Additionally, workers in both countries could forget about becoming pregnant. In both countries all those surveyed. More problems were raised including low wages, unsafe working conditions and fixed-term contracts that fail to protect workers of from unfair termination.
The shortcomings continued "Among these workers, some were engaged in hazardous production processes. For instance, workers employed by Jak Group and engaged in leather work are exposed to toxic chemicals and required to use heavy tools that cause injuries,” the report said. “Workers reported that they were given no masks, no first-aid boxes were available and that supervisors callously dismissed injuries.”
At the end of the day, we understand just how complex worldwide supply chains are. That being said, H&M touts itself as a leader of ethical labor regulations despite time-and-again falling short.
So, at what point do we just stop trusting what H&M is telling us?