Anna Gedda, head of sustainability at H&M
Together with Hendrik Alpen, sustainability business expert, stakeholder engagement, at H&M, Gedda addressed some of the criticisms H&M has faced, including its reluctance to quantify a living wage in its supplier countries.
A couple of things to note before you dig into the interview: The “Fair Wage Method” Gedda and Alpen refer to is a roadmap developed by the independent Fair Wage Network designed to ensure the regular and fair adjustment of wages according to both price increases and performance.
In H&M’s own words:
The Fair Wage Method starts with worker and management interviews. The purpose is to identify the perception on what the existing wage covers in terms of basic needs including rent, food, clothing, and education. It also evaluates if the worker feels that there is fair correlation in regards to their skills, education, etc.
After the factory has implemented a remediation plan, follow-up interviews takes place to measure if the worker’s perception of his or her wage has changed, and also the gap between worker and management perception on wage level.
According to the company’s latest numbers, H&M implemented the method at 68 factories in 2015, plus an additional 78 during 2016. Countries that will be covered by the end of the year, the company says, include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, India, China, and Turkey.
H&M also has a “Social Dialogue” program, which “[aims] for democratically elected and effective employee committees at factories.”
The program, per the retailer, covers more than 40 percent of the factories producing for H&M in Bangladesh today and is also available in India and China.
But if all this talk about “social dialoguing” and “empowering” sounds a bit..well…vague, know that you’re not alone in that sentiment.
When it comes to ethical initiatives by companies such as H&M, the scale of marketing versus actual impact or scope can be “shockingly disproportionate,” according to labor-rights organizations such as Labour Behind the Label, which published a report in February about the need for greater transparency from H&M and its ethics-touting ilk.
“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,” wrote Anna McMullen, the paper’s lead author. “Companies must publish, 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.”
There are specifics that are heartening: H&M’s partnership with the International Labour Organization, for instance, and its collaboration with IndustriAll Global Union on a global framework agreement to protect workers’ interests.
But H&M’s rhetoric, which it has in droves, is only as good as the outcome of its claims. To quote McMullen, “when a brand is so outward in signing public commitments, for which it receives a lot of credit, the reporting on these commitments must clearly and publicly disclose results that demonstrate measurable and verifiable progress towards real change.”
How earnest is H&M? We’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, dear reader.