H&M is rolling out a new designer collaboration, this time with Erdem. Like previous ones, there will likely be a line out the door for affordable high fashion.
High fashion is sometimes more about name than quality.
But, affordable fashion has its own share of problems. In this post, I will lay out some of the problems. In the next post, I will offer some alternative choices for fashion.
I will focus on H&M here, but many mall stores could be accused of the same abuses.
H&M advertises itself as ethical, and they have received positive press. For example, after the tragic and preventable factory fire in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of textile workers, H&M signed a pledge to follow fire safety codes.
Yet, a follow up study by The Clean Clothes Campaign found the company was failing to protect workers. Marc Bain from qz.com writes:
What’s more worrisome, the report only looked at H&M’s “Platinum” and “Gold” suppliers—the factories that supposedly boast the highest standards in labor and environmental protections. They account for 56 of the 229 factories H&M uses in Bangladesh.
About 61% didn’t have fire exits that met the accord’s standards, which demand that fire exits have enclosed stairwells and fire-rated doors. Without those measures, exits can quickly fill with smoke in a fire, effectively trapping workers on a factory’s upper floors.
Another issue is H&M promotes itself as paying a fair wage. But, its fair wage standards do not apply to subcontractors. In India, young girls often are victim to sumangali schemes, which promise money for a dowry, taking children away from their homes and schools if they work.
A report by Mother Jones:
H&M’s fair-wage promise does not extend to all of its subcontractors, which include the factories that spin the cotton into thread (also known as spinning mills). In India, most sumangali schemes take place in spinning mills. That the plan doesn’t include subcontractors could be a big problem: If some factories in the supply chain are not required to pay a fair wage, garment factories can simply outsource more of their labor to those cheaper operations. When I asked H&M how the company plans to address the challenge of factories outsourcing labor to subcontractors with potentially exploitive conditions, spokesman Håcan Andersson said, “We are not able to assist you further in this matter.”
A report by Reuters found that undocumented Syria refugees were working without any human rights protections in Turkish factories, making clothes for H&M and other mass market chains.
Human Rights Watch also issued a report on H&M subcontractors in Cambodia:
Workers said they were fearful of forming a union and that eligible workers did not receive maternity leave or pay. From employee accounts, some workers were children younger than 15, the legally permissible age in Cambodia. One woman estimated that 20 of the 60 workers in her group were children. Children worked as hard as the adults, they said, including on Sundays, nights for overtime work, and public holidays when there were rush orders.