While tens of thousands of, mostly women, garment workers in H&M’s supply chain have been waiting since the start of the pandemic in March to be paid their legally owed wages, H&M CEO Helena Helmersson presumes to enlighten CSF+ on sustainability in fashion from her Swedish summer house. This year's online event: CFS+ proclaims to focus on “redesigning value,” and creating a more “resilient business model” post COVID-19 by bringing “industry leaders” and “diverse voices” together, but ignores the very people who need to be heard the most: The garment workers who bear the economic brunt of the pandemic, allowing CEOs and brands to profit and grow, while being left behind struggling to survive.
The CFS+ programme is full of empty, self-serving rigmarole on growth, prosperity and radical change for the future of fashion. It is presented by Global Fashion Agenda, who proclaim to be the leading forum for sustainability in fashion, while collaborating with brands like Nike and Bestseller, two brands who, besides H&M, have significant numbers of worker rights abuses cases related to COVID-19.
We created an alternative magazine for CFS+ to showcase the current reality of fashion and remind the industry that sustainable fashion must also be sustainable for garment workers. The industry was built on, and still systematically profits from, slavery and exploitation. Not only are the poverty wages earnt for decades across fashion’s supply chains not sustainable, global brands and retailers refused to pay overseas suppliers for more than $16 billion worth of goods since the outbreak of COVID-19. Garment workers are now owed between $3.19 and $5.79 billion (USD) for just the first three months of the pandemic, while already living hand to mouth.
The Clean Clothes Campaign calls on H&M and all major brands to commit to redistributing value in the fashion industry and #PayYourWorkers. We want brands to ensure not only that workers in their supply chain are paid what they are owed, but also, to establish a fund that will make sure garment workers will no longer be left jobless without their legally owed severance. Without severance and pay, garment workers never have a chance at the resiliency and growth that their forced sacrifice has given to those at the top of the fashion industry.
H&M is among the three main targets in Clean Clothes Campaign’s latest "Pay Your Workers" campaign demanding a wage assurance for workers in garment supply chains. Before the pandemic, the Swedish fast fashion retailer failed to deliver on its 2013 commitment to ensure 850,000 workers in its supply chain would be paid a fair living wage by 2018. Now H&M is involved in several wage theft cases that the company has blamed on COVID-19, but has so far refused and failed to take any kind of meaningful action to ensure that its workers get paid what they are legally owed.
“Not only does H&M fail to live up to its promises of paying a living wage but it is not even ensuring the payment of legally mandated minimum wages,” said Dominique Muller, Labour Behind the Label. Minimum wages in most of H&M’s production countries are extremely low, yet without this salary workers immediately fall below all poverty thresholds, as many are already trying to survive on loans.
“If CFS+ truly aims to be about sustainability as a business imperative, as the website claims, the focus of the discussion should not be just about how to create a more resilient business model, but about how to make workers more resilient during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. The global fashion industry has profited long enough from paying near-poverty wages to garment workers around the world. It is 2020 and past time for them to take responsibility for their workers, who have not only had to survive this crisis without any form of social protection, but also had their wages stopped,” said Kalpona Akter, President of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation.
“We were shocked to find out how brands behaved at the beginning of the pandemic: cancelling orders, of which some had already been finished, and refusing to pay for them. H&M has committed to pay for all orders. However, paying for those orders is far from enough. We’re still receiving reports from unions around the world of rights violations. Brands, including H&M, show absolutely no sign of solidarity with the workers who have provide them with profits through the years. In fact, the opposite is true. There is no hesitation to push the severest effects of the crisis to the workers at the bottom of the supply chain while people like Helena Helmersson hobnob at fashion summits,” said Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign.
We are calling on conscious citizens to disrupt the event by taking over and redefining the CFS+ hashtags. During Ms. Helmersson’s participation in the “Impact Conversations” panel, we are calling on H&M consumers and others who care about the workers who make our clothes to remind her that signing up to a wage assurance for H&M supply chain workers is the most “impactful” point she can make.
H&M, Nike, Bestseller, and all the other participants and associates of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and Global Fashion Agenda must agree to a plan for assuring wages and severance for the workers who make their clothes. Many smaller brands, including Nile, Kuyichi, Taiyo, and Known Supply have already committed to the wage assurance. This assurance can be through direct support, emergency funds, cooperation with employers and governments, and a guarantee fund aimed at paying severance owed in future cases. Global brands have a legal and moral responsibility to make sure that human rights are respected throughout their supply chains.
Over the next two days we will be raising our voices wherever possible during the Summit to call for H&M, Nike, Bestseller, and the entire Fashion Industry to include ALL of its workers in its plan for resiliency and redesigning value. We will disrupt the myth that H&M is in the vanguard of social sustainability.