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Product, Service & Design Innovation
H&M Solidifies Workers’ Rights Framework, Debuts Upcycled Clothes at London Fashion Week

In the past, H&M has faced criticism for labor issues in its supply chain and its “fast fashion” business model that relies on high rates of consumption.

In the past, H&M has faced criticism for labor issues in its supply chain and its “fast fashion” business model that relies on high rates of consumption. Two recent developments demonstrate how the retailer has been working on these issues: H&M has formalized an agreement to permanently collaborate with labor unions on efforts to improve worker-employee dialogue, including the establishment of fair “living wages” across all its suppliers; and the company ceded the spotlight at London Fashion Week to undergraduates who created womenswear using materials gathered from H&M's in-store garment-collection program.

After a Global Framework Agreement (GFA) signed a year ago was deemed a success, H&M, IndustriAll Global Union, and the Swedish trade union IF Metall formalized a new agreement that commits them to continue to work toward improved industrial relations, complete with freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining by workers’ representatives.

Ecouterre reports that the signing parties have already begun seeing “several positive results” from their work together, such as enacting national monitoring committees that comprise of representatives from both H&M and IndustriALL’s affiliated trade unions in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Turkey. The committees help promote good-faith negotiations between employers’ and workers’ organizations at the factory level, including through arbitration in the case of a conflict.

“The support to factory level unions within the supply chain of H&M has been one key objective of the GFA between IndustriALL Global Union and H&M,” Christina Hajagos-Clausen, textile and garment industry director at IndustriAll, said in a statement.

While the nascent unions are still fragile, Hajagos-Clausen said they are a key step forward. She added, “It should be noted that these newly formed trade unions and their management counterparts need to have additional capacity building in order to achieve well-functioning industrial relations.”

H&M is also a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and is a participant in its Social and Labor Convergence Project.

Meanwhile, at London Fashion Week in late September, H&M traded models for mannequins and runways for store windows. The retailer had tasked 33 teams of undergraduates from the London College of Fashion’s (LCF’s) Centre for Sustainable Fashion to create womenswear using materials gathered from H&M's in-store garment-collection program, and a panel of experts selected ten winning collections that were debuted at five H&M outlets across London.

H&M’s Catarina Midby said that clothes recycling is a vital part of the company’s efforts to “close the loop” on textiles. “As leaders in sustainability, it is hugely important for us to continue working to promote the importance of garment recycling to our customers,” she said. “Garment recycling is the first step towards achieving our goal of 100 percent circularity.”

Midby sat on the expert panel, alongside Orsola de Castro, a co-founder of Fashion Revolution, and Dilys Williams, the director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion.

“It is imperative that we see upcycling as a teachable technique as it is one of the very few ways to combat mass production, while we wait for recycling technologies to become advanced enough to offer real and effective closed loop solutions,” de Castro said in a statement. “As always, the LCF students came armed with talent, dedication, and ingenuity.”