H&M are doing an awful lot these days to try and show themselves as the greenest store on the high street. They're one of the few big brands to release a sustainability report, for example. Their 2012 report came out last week, and it's fascinating reading. This is no corporate puff-piece. It's a bracingly honest document, that's prepared to admit that they're not perfect. Work needs to be done on wages and worker conditions in their factories, for example.
They do have a lot of which they can be proud. Working with the WWF to cut down on their water usage, partnering with the French government on a pilot scheme to accurately map their supply chain. Then, of course, there's the Conscious Collection, bill-boarded everywhere, a flag-waving showpiece for their use of new, eco-friendly fabrics.
It's not all rosy, of course. Transparency is all well and good, but there are different kinds of clarity. Anti-sweatshop group The Clean Clothes Campaign recently launched Unconscious Collapses, an action that focuses on the unsafe working conditions in H&M's Cambodian factories. These unventilated buildings have led to malnourished and overworked factory staff fainting in their hundreds. Christa Luginbühl, a coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign says:
“H&M claims that [its] clothes are made with responsibility for people and environment, but hundreds of overworked and malnourished workers faint during their daily work. A fashion collection cannot be ‘conscious,’ ‘sustainable,’ or ‘responsible’ if a producer denies garment workers the basic human right for a living wage."
H&M, meanwhile, simply say that "more needs to be done." But the point is that H&M made $2billion in profits last year alone. If more needs to be done, then surely they have the money in the bank to get the goals that they mention in their report sorted out, and quickly.
Any huge multinational is always going to have problems with a supply chain spread globally, and abuse is something that's easy to turn a blind eye to. It's great that H&M are not painting themselves as paragons of sustainability, but it's important that their eco-initiatives are scrutinised carefully for signs of greenwashing.
With that in mind, Vogue and H&M are hosting a live webcast on sustainability at 3pm this afternoon (UK time). It's probably worth checking out to see if you believe that one of the biggest brands on the planet are putting their money where their mouth is.
Subscribe to the feed at the link below.