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Major let downs after claims of ethics

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Behind the Label, campaign, living wage, H&M, M&S, report, poverty, supply chainWorkers making our clothes continue to live in abject poverty.

A recent report on Marks and Spencer (M&S) and H&M has looked into the stories behind two leading high-street brands who have made claims to be ensuring a fair living wage is possible for their workers.

The results?

They have been found wanting.

Low wages, slum housing and little evidence of change.

Marks and Spencer, the UK’s trusted supplier of pants and socks, and H&M, a favourite amonge the UK high street’s low cost fashion stores, have both promoted their brands as different from the rest by claiming ethics set them apart.

Through paper bags, clothes recycling, eco collections, and strategic press moments, these two brands have claimed to do things differently.

Specifically, H&M and M&S have made headline commitments to ensuring a living wage is possible for workers in their supply chains.

But when campaign group Labour Behind the Label analysed wages in M&S suppliers, they found that the impact of their commitment on real wages had been minimal.

At M&S suppliers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, workers continue to live in abject poverty.

Looking to H&M’s fair living wage work, Labour Behind the Label sought out H&M strategic suppliers in Cambodia to analyse their wage levels. Wages had increased, but not enough to meet a living wage level.

Workers reported issues with short term contracts limiting their rights to holiday and bonuses. In some factories, piece rate systems had been put in place causing workers to skip breaks, and leaving them exhausted and prone to regular illness.

The report is called ‘Do We Buy It? A supply chain investigation into living wage commitments from M&S and H&M’.

To read it, click here.

And the muddiness of the industry’s supply chains highlights the need for greater transparency.

It is not sufficient for companies to be able to make claims about key human rights issues without supplying the quantifiable data that allows these claims to be independently checked, and for workers and consumers to hold them to their promises.

Companies must publish all data relating to their supply chains; not only supplier lists but audit reports, and other important data such as wages paid per supplier by grade if they are to make public statements about performance on wages.

Labour Behind the Label calls on M&S and H&M to:

Set and publish living wage benchmarks that provide a level of dignity for a family, and use these when costing payments to suppliers to ensure that purchasing practices do not preclude payment of a living wage;

Implement programmes, using these benchmarks as a target, that actually increase wages while not impacting on workers’ health;

Engage in negotiating and signing Enforceable Brand Agreements (EBAs) [Definition: EBAs are agreements made which empower workers and their organisations to address the root causes of workers’ rights violations, are applicable across a number of workplaces, have mechanisms to ensure signatories take action stated, and are signed between brands and local trade unions, ideally supported by global federations and other global alliances];

Work transparently, including publishing data on progress towards measurable goals, publishing social audit reports, disclosing the names and addresses of supplier and subcontractor facilities in a spreadsheet format, and other key data about production facilities; and

Investigate the rights violations listed in this report and take steps to remedy violations where appropriate.

Do you agree? To tell the brands, click here.

Labour Behind the Label is campaigning for garment workers’ rights worldwide, working to improve conditions and empower workers. For more information about what you can do to help, click here.

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