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Fair living wage hopes dashed

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H&M, Clean Clothes Campaign, Behind the Label, poverty, overtime, living wage, scandalSince its 2013 promises of hope, H&M has reworded its commitment to workers.

In November 2013, H&M – one of the world’s largest retailers, with 4,801 shops worldwide – announced that all “H&M’s strategic suppliers should have pay structures in place to pay a fair living wage by 2018. By then, this will reach around 850 000 textile workers.”

At the time, those workers made 60 per cent of H&M’s products, sourced from ‘strategic and preferred suppliers’ which H&M grades as ‘gold’ or ‘platinum’.

With H&M’s deadline nearing, the Clean Clothes Campaign set out to check what workers were making in some of those supplier factories, and how close that was to a living wage.

That Clean Clothes Campaign works on the assumption that a living wage should be earned in a standard working week and allow the garment worker and her/his family to cover basic needs: food to meet nutritional needs, housing, healthcare, clothing, transportation and education, plus 10 per cent discretionary income for savings, or protection in case of the unexpected.

But the Clean Clothes Campaign found that:

No interviewed workers earned anything near a living wage;

Many interviewed workers and their families lived below the poverty line;

Overtime hours reported by the workers often exceeded the legal maximum;

Sunday work was common among interviewed workers;

Overtime was reportedly not always paid in line with legal requirements;

Hardly any interviewed workers knew how their wages are calculated;

Workplace fainting appeared to be commonplace in multiple researched factories;

Workers in all researched factories feared organising in independent unions;

The Indian and Turkish workers interviewed earned about a third of the estimated base living wage. In Cambodia, the respondents earned almost half a base living wage; and

In Bulgaria, interviewees were paid less than 10 per cent of a base living wage for the regular working hours.

The existing governmental and EU poverty thresholds rank considerably higher than the legal minimum wage and workers’ actual remuneration in Bulgaria and Turkey. The H&M workers interviewed in Bulgaria earned less than two thirds of the EU’s poverty threshold despite working 80 hours a week.

In 2013, H&M published its “Roadmap towards fair living wages” and gave 850,000 workers hope of a living wage by 2018.

The roadmap presented four strategies that would, according to H&M, lead to a fair living wages for workers in their supply chain:

1) supporting factory owners in developing pay structures that enable the payment of fair living wages,

2) improving purchasing practices to ensure it enables suppliers to pay their workers for the true cost of labour,

3) encouraging governments to engage in a process to identify a living wage level, set a minimum wage accordingly and review wages annually thereafter,

4) supporting workers to ensure they have access to education, skill enhancement and improving their bargaining position through ensuring that democratically elected worker representatives are in place.

But since 2013 H&M has reworded its commitment and now the original fair living wages promise no longer features in corporate communication.

Moreover, the original Roadmap documents are not accessible on H&M’s website any more.

To read the full report, click here.

To sign the petition calling on H&M to keep its promises, click here. Thanks.

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