NEW DELHI, Feb 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Swedish
fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) said on Tuesday it
planned to have elected committees and proper pay structures for
workers in its main supply factories across the world by 2018 in
a bid to curb labour exploitation.
Elin Astrom, head of H&M's Sustainability Program in India,
said the clothing firm was aware of the exploitation of workers
in the garment industry and was working on several initiatives
with its main suppliers to improve worker conditions.
"We know that getting a job in the textile industry can be
an important driver for independence for women. Many times it is
the first paid job and can be a catalyst for positive change,
but of course -- not by default," Astrom said at a United
Nations event on women's economic empowerment.
"We do face challenges ourselves within the industry when it
comes to working conditions, excessive overtime, wages etc and
we are trying to address this in several ways."
The fashion industry has come under increasing pressure to
improve factory conditions and workers' rights, particularly
after the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory complex in
Bangladesh four years ago, in which 1,136 people were killed.
Many big fashion brands, including H&M, have been criticised
for failing to check conditions of workers in their supply
chains -- from poor health and safety standards to long working
hours and low pay to not being allowed to form trade unions.
In May last year, a study by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance
(AFWA) found workers stitching clothes for H&M in factories in
Delhi and Phnom Penh faced problems such as low wages,
fixed-term contracts, forced overtime and loss of job if
The AFWA, a coalition of trade unions and labour rights
groups, accused the Western high street retailer of failing on
its commitments to clean up its supply chain.
Astrom said the fashion brand sources its apparel from
factories across 25 countries and indirectly employs 1.6 million
garment workers -- 64 percent of whom are women.
"It is important to have responsible sourcing when it comes
to the millions of jobs that we create throughout the supply
chain," she said.
The company, she said, has strict expectations of suppliers
through a code of conduct, but added that they faced challenges
in making factory owners understand issues such as freedom of
association and the need for workers' voices to be heard.
She said the clothing retailer had set goals with its main
suppliers to listen to workers, as well as pay scales that
ensure adequate wages based on skill and experience.
"We do have capacity building programs to enable workers to
raise their voices in a meaningful way with management. We have
a goal with all our strategic suppliers to have democratically
elected workers committees by 2018 as one step towards this,"
"We are also committed that every garment worker should earn
enough to make a decent living and we want to ensure this across
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Ros Russell.
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