To its credit, H&M doesn’t paint a perfect picture. It wasn’t so long ago that the fashion chain was raked over the coals for destroying perfectly serviceable clothing, participating in an alleged “organic cotton fraud,” mass faintings at a factory in Cambodia, and dumping hormone-disrupting chemicals into China’s waterways.
It wasn’t so long ago that H&M was raked over the coals for destroying perfectly serviceable clothing and dumping toxic chemicals into China’s waterways.
“We are proud about the achievements we have made during the year, but we are also aware of the challenges ahead,” says Helmersson, the company’s sustainability chief. “We strive to be transparent about our progress and the report is an important part of that. There are a number of things that really stand out, such as our plan to further support social development in one of our most important sourcing markets—Bangladesh—as well as H&M being the biggest user of organic cotton in the world.”
Certainly, the milestones it has accomplished are impressive. H&M is already the largest buyer of organic cotton in the world. By 2020, 100 percent of H&M’s cotton will come from more sustainable sources, including Better Cotton, organic cotton, and recycled cotton. Its first products using Better Cotton, which reduces water and chemical use while protecting working conditions, has already reached stores, the company adds.
“We want our customers to feel confident that everything they buy from H&M is designed, manufactured, and handled with consideration for people and environment,” says Karl-Johan Persson, H&M’s CEO. “The level of social and environmental responsibility we take, places H&M’s sustainability work at the forefront of the fashion industry globally.”
Is the fashion behemoth in earnest? Or skirting the real issue? We’ll leave it up to you to decide, dear reader.
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H&M uses more certified-organic cotton than any other company in the world. By 2020, 100 percent of its cotton will be from sustainable sources, including Better Cotton, organic cotton, and recycled cotton.
H&M’s buyers and designers clocked a total of 3,600 hours of sustainability training in 2011.
The company expects to produce 7 million pairs of shoes made with water- rather than chemical-based adhesives, up from 450,000 in 2010 and 2.4 million in 2011.
H&M’s clothes are produced by roughly 750 independent suppliers, located primarily in Asia. As part of its audit program, H&M conducted 10,000 worker interviews, performed 1,330 capacity-building activities, and analyzed 1,941 supplier-management systems. Seventy-eight percent of all head audits were unannounced.
In 2011, the retailer reduced carbon-dioxide emissions by 5 percent, relative to sales, by cutting air transport, improving energy efficiency in its stores, and buying offsets.
To create its recycled polyester, H&M used the equivalent of 9.2 million post-consumer plastic bottles.
One-hundred percent of its plastic bags are derived from recycled materials, as is 90 percent of the paper used for its mail-order packages. All of H&M’s paper bags are made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified sources.
H&M is working with Greenpeace to work towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2015. Notes the report: “We continued to phase out the use of solvent-based chemicals in our supply chain, launched the first fluorocarbon-free outerwear, and banned the use of toluene entirely.”
Its increased use of more sustainable cotton has resulted in the use of 3.5 million kilograms (7.7 million pounds) less pesticides.
For denim production, the retailer projects a savings of 300 million liters of water in 2012, up from 50 million liters in 2010 and 100 million liters in 2011.
This past year, H&M joined the Fair Wage Network, an initiative that works to bring together fashion brands, garment producers, nonprofits, and researchers to promote fair wages around the world. As part of this, the Fair Labor Association will independently assess wage structures at around 200 of H&M’s supplier factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, and India. H&M has also trained more than 442 000 workers in Bangladesh on their rights since 2008.