“Fashion Kills” H&M


I find H&M to be interesting after going abroad and seeing one of their store locations in every city I visited. H&M is a Swedish clothing and accessary store that offers six different brands all targeting men, women, and children. The mantra of H&M is to be affordable while also being trendy. H&M has 3,900 locations around the world, 900 suppliers and they also employ over 2,000 people. Another element of H&M is that they call themselves a sustainable company, at always the best price. There was a time when I believed H&M was a great sustainable company until I learned that they did not include all aspects of what it means to be sustainable or even just good management into their business.

In 2013 H&M signed an accord to pay more attention to their factories in Bangladesh after Rana Plaza collapsed leaving 1,000 workers dead. Rana Plaza housed five garment factories leaving lots of damage and pollution to the area. H&M is not alone, 200 other companies also manufacture their clothes in Bangladesh, so far and out of sight from where they actually do business. H&M put out a statement after the collapse of a detailed plan of their work life and experience. It is broken down into three factors, using influence as positive change, rewarding responsible partners and protecting children. They are on the right track by having these motives in place but it is how they execute them that are most important.

In 2015 the clean clothes campaign voiced that H&M was behind schedule in fixing dangerous hazards found in their factories. After researching what happened in Bangladesh, many activists wrote that H&M only signed an accord and took “action” of the issue of work life because they were hounded with activist outside their stores and corporate offices. It is sad that H&M had to be harassed by activist in order to want to improve working conditions in Bangladesh. Again H&M is not alone; other companies are also behind in updating working conditions. H&M is the most targeted by the clean clothes initiative because it is the largest producer manufacturing out of Bangladesh, they hold a lot of leverage to how workers and factory life is portrayed.

In the study that the clean clothes campaign organized, H&M was dramatically behind schedule, which is risky due to many fire hazards. Much of their work conditions pose a fire threat, which put their workers and products at a high risk. The improvements to be made in the factories include safe and easy ways to get to fire exits, lockable and sliding doors as well as collapsible gates that will make it easy for workers to exit without harm from the building. During the fall of 2015 H&M wrote in their sustainability report that all these improvements had already been made when they were actually behind schedule.

Moving forward I do think it is good H&M is identifying on their personal website what they need to change and make a priority. It will be interesting to see the actions they actually take in the next couple of months to improve working conditions.

http://qz.com/516038/report-most-of-hms-best-factories-in-bangladesh-still-dont-have-working-fire-exits/
http://qz.com/516038/report-most-of-hms-best-factories-in-bangladesh-still-dont-have-working-fire-exits/
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12 thoughts on ““Fashion Kills” H&M

  1. There are some fair critiques here, especially concerning the actions taken (or rather, not taken) after the collapse of Rana Plaza. However, I would wonder whether we’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater in such an approach. Something I learned from digging into Apple and Patagonia is that, no matter the distribution of blame, there are many, many parties with guilty hands in anything concerning globalization (Foxconn was a supplier for many companies other than Apple, and Walmart and a good handful of others were supplied with clothing from that Plaza). You say. “In 2013 H&M signed an accord to pay more attention to their factories in Bangladesh after Rana Plaza collapsed,” but according to a case study (http://www.staffs.ac.uk/schools/business/resits/postgrad/InternationalSupplyChainMgmtHandMCaseStudy.pdf) H&M has not vertically integrated any of its supply chain; they don’t own any supply factories. This mistake is an easy one to make, and I caught myself doing it often thinking of Apple treating “their” workers at Foxconn poorly. Does that mean they are guilt free just because they don’t own it? Absolutely not. But we should try to see the broad picture that H&M’s story plays out in if we are to suggest viable solutions.

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    1. Josiah, thanks for your input, I see your point about how this can be tricky. As I state in my post, H&m is the largest buyer in Bangladesh, I do not say it was their factory they owned that collapsed. Here is a great article that explains the situation http:http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=15840. I am aware of the fact that H&M does not own any supply factories, rather the point is that they are a company with influence in how they run the industry especially to other companies that do own factories. I still think a viable solution is to make work life and experience a priority.

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      1. This raises an interesting question. Are companies morally responsible for mishaps within factories if they aren’t directly involved with day-to-day operations? As Margaret mentioned, despite the fact that H&M does not specifically own and run the factory that collapsed, it should be a company’s moral responsibility to be aware of where their products come from and to ensure that they are being safely produced. Disasters happen, mishaps occur. However, fire hazards are something that could be easily avoid if proper policies are instilled. And H&M most certainly has the power to make that type of change.

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  2. The fashion industry at large has been attacked in recent years and for good reason. The mass production of clothes is a serious issue that speaks to the problem of excess in the US and other developed countries. Why do we need so much? I think we could all take a note from a recent book called The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up. This book speaks to minimalism and the powerful effect it can have on your life.

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    1. Thanks West, I think you make a great point that fashion and the garment industry consists of companies that have the ability to take great action in terms of work life and experience. I will definitely make time to read your recommendation.

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  3. Margaret, I think you raise an interesting and all-too-common concern of the fashion industry: ensuring safety amidst mass production. I do not believe that safety should be a less significant concern of corporations, but we have seen several examples of “big names” like Nike and Apple doing just that. H&M and BP (the company I spoke about in my blog post) are similar in that the work culture was not safe, and that the two companies strayed from their corporate initiatives. Rather than just speaking about change, I think it will also be interesting to see how H&M and BP recover from their mishaps.

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  4. After being abroad as well, I can definitely identify with the fact that H&M stores are almost everywhere and I am continually shocked by how deceptive corporations can be to the public. How is it that they are allowed to “say” they’re doing things when in reality, they aren’t? Josiah brought up a good point about the factory workers not being part of H&M’s workers directly, but I think that with the size of H&M as a whole and the scope that it covers, they definitely have the influence to change work conditions at the factories that they hire as its suppliers. So I definitely do think it’s interesting to consider whether or not they have an obligation to speak up about it and how much it would actually cost them to demand better working conditions for the factory workers?

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    1. Mona, I’m glad you also noticed the wide range of store locations H&M has in Europe. I think that says a lot about how people buy and know products. With that said H&M is a major influence in the Bangladesh market and I too think it’s a hard decision to make if it is an obligation and priority.

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    1. H&M does have North American locations, but seems to have a larger presence in the UK and Scandinavia. I did some research and after the incident in Bangladesh more fashion companies have implemented sustainability into its pillars of business, but I cannot be sure if they are executing anything new.

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  5. Its great to see that H&M is taking an initiative to change the conditions for their workers. Many companies in apparel do not take the initiative to make a difference. Now, I would assume that H&M would not have made thee changes if they weren’t under such scrutiny. That is what rubs me the wrong way. I felt the same way with Volkswagen, who I’m sure would have continued polluting the air if they weren’t exposed. Everyone has to make unethical decisions to make it to the top, but they end up paying for it in the end and eventually make a change. However do the means justify the end result, who knows, H&M will be fine but will the people who suffered in the beginning? I have no idea. I know that working conditions have improved across the world because of situations like these. Hopefully there will be a day when people make the right decision and they are able to it to the top in the capital world. I am doubtful though.

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