H&M employs 1.6 million factory workers worldwide. How many of those earn a living wage? According to H&M’s global head of production, David Savman, the answer is zero. Zilch. Nada. But, amazingly, the Swedish retail giant is doing more than most fast-fashion brands to change that.
Following the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed over 1100 factory workers in 2013, H&M pledged to overhaul its supply chain. (The company is also an industry leader when it comes to using eco-friendly fabrics.) Part of that overhaul was a pledge to pay the factory workers a “fair living wage” by 2018. But on a recent tour of one factory in Cambodia that supplies to H&M, a worker named Srey Neang told Reuters, “Our salary does not allow us to save money — it’s barely enough to live.”
A fair living wage is a standard recognized by the International Labor Organization as a basic human right. It’s enough money to allow a person to support themselves day to day and maintain a small amount of savings. Now, with the deadline approaching, H&M’s goal has changed to implement wage management systems that will negotiate wages, instead of having the wages actually in place. Savman told Reuters, “Until workers’ unions and manufacturers agree on a figure, we do not know what a fair living wage is,” arguing that such an infrastructure was necessary for a sustainable fair living wage plan.
Meanwhile, the average pay for an H&M supply worker in Bangladesh is reportedly $0.49 an hour, according to the Microfinance Organization. But amazingly, H&M is ahead of other fast-fashion companies. For one, they do have a plan to improve. For another, the average of $0.49 an hour is higher than what workers in other factories earned, although it’s low enough to violate Bangladeshi labor laws. Union membership, which is necessary for wage negotiation with H&M, is “almost non-existent across the full sample.” Moeun Tola, the executive director of the Center for the Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, told Reuters, “If H&M really wants to pay a living wage, they can go directly to their supplier and make an agreement.”
Of course it’s important to do things the right way and with an infrastructure in place that will make it sustainable. But H&M is five years into this pledge, and zero out of 1.6 million factory workers are making a fair living wage. At the very least, it would be another way to be a trendsetter.