Workers in H&M Factories Suffer Human Rights and Labor Abuses, New Report Details

Despite widely-publicized official dedications to improving standards in the supply chain, the garment industry giant continues to exploit workers

Workers in H&M Factories Suffer Human Rights and Labor Abuses, New Report Details

NEW DELHI, INDIA: In advance of next month’s International Labor Organization (ILO) conference in Geneva, an international consortium of human and labor rights organizations have released a groundbreaking new report detailing workplace abuses at H&M supplier factories. The research, collected through interviews with 251 factory workers in Cambodia and India, finds that despite H&M widely-publicized commitments to protections across their supply chain, there are significant gaps in their implementation, leading to persistent rights violations in their factories.

“H&M proudly announced reduced overtimes, higher wages and increased worker satisfaction in the company’s living wage pilot programs. However, these outcomes are impossible to verify, as H&M has refused to disclose the names of these model factories or the methodology for determining wages,” said Athit Kong, Vice President of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union. “Further, despite their much-publicized partnerships with groups working to improve conditions across the supply chain, information about actions taken under these collaborations is not easily available.”

“In light of these documented violations of international labor standards, our delegation hopes to emphasize before the ILO, the substantial gaps between H&M’s public commitments and their implementation of workplace protections,” said Anannya Bhattacharjee of the Asia Floor Wage Alliance. “Our discoveries of precarious labor – work that is uncertain, unpredictable and risky for the worker – fits with our knowledge of the depth and extent of rights violations in the entire industry. Indeed, the sheer scale of rights violations we documented in Cambodian and Indian factories suggests that precarious labor is not limited to H&M specifically, nor to these these two countries. Rather, it shows that such abuses are fundamentally linked to the structure of the garment global value chain as a whole.”

In the aftermath of industry-wide controversies around the prevalence of human rights and labor abuses spurred on by the anti-sweatshop and consumer-driven accountability movements in Europe and the United States, H&M released a number of initiatives aimed at improving working conditions in their supply chains. To date, the company’s participation in improving workplace conditions in their factories and in the industry as a whole have proved largely symbolic. As detailed in the report:

  • 9 out of 11 H&M supplier factories in Phnom Penh surveyed continued to employ workers on fixed duration contracts, despite H&M’s stated commitment to change these policies. Illegal use of short-term contracts is common, despite the fact that threats of non-renewal undermine workers’ ability to demand safe workplaces, exercise their rights to freedom of association and refuse overtime work.
  • Workers from 9 out of 12 factories surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment in their workplaces. Only 27 out of 201 workers expressed having knowledge of a mode of addressing harassment within their workplaces.
  • Workers from 11 out of the 12 H&M supplier factors surveyed in Cambodia, who are predominantly women, reported witnessing or experiencing termination of employment during pregnancyAll 50 workers interviewed in H&M’s Indian supplier factories reported that women are fired from their jobs during a pregnancy.
  • Despite signing a sustainability commitment in 2015 protecting payment of wages, H&M frequently fails to pay its workers both a living wage, which includes support for all family members, basic nutritional needs, and other basic needs including housing, health care, education and basic savings, or even basic minimum wages adherent to national regulations. Workers employed by H&M suppliers in India, for example, reported receiving inadequate compensation under Indian wage law.

“At the International Labor Conference, supply chain workers from across the globe will come together to urge the ILO to move forward with setting a global standard for supply chains that includes protections for wages, freedom of association, and migration,” said Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice. “These recommendations – which include, for the first time, an outline for an international, cross-border living wage – are essential in improving the lives of billions of workers in Asia, the United States, and worldwide. We can only hope that they will listen.”

This report is one in a series, entitled “Workers’ Voice from Global Supply Chains: A Report to the ILO 2016,” which will detail supply chain malpractices and recommendations to amend them. The group, which includes the international Asia Floor Wage Alliance, Jobs with Justice (USA), National Guestworker Alliance (USA) and the Society for Labour and Development (India) and the Clean Clothes Campaign (EU), will be at the ILO in Geneva to present their findings.

Garment workers from Cambodia and India, including those who will be at the ILO, are available to share their personal expertise and perspective.  Original photographs and copies of the report are also available upon request. Please contact Alexandra De Luca at [email protected]

Download the report here

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