H&M to Step Up Monitoring of Local Suppliers

H&M and global union federation IndustriALL on Tuesday signed off on a deal aimed at improving conditions for the 1.6 million workers at the 1,900 factories around the world filling orders for the Swedish clothing giant that will include a new oversight committee in Cambodia.

The deal, which also includes Swedish union IF Metall, aims to ensure that H&M’s supply factories respect their workers’ human and trade union rights, do not discriminate against their workers’ representatives and protect their rights to not work in unsafe conditions.

All of the issues affect Cambodia’s factories, where workers often complain of union discrimination, forced overtime and mass faintings blamed partly on chemical fumes and high temperatures.

Two workers died in 2013 when a factory ceiling collapsed on them and eight were injured the next year when the floor of another factory caved in. The absence of building standards and shoddy inspection were blamed in both cases. Cambodia’s factories, however, say labor rights abuses are the exception and not the rule.

The new deal, IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina said in a statement, “cements the path towards a sustainable garment industry with unionized workforce, constructive labor-management relations, living wages through industry-level collective agreements, and safe workplaces.”

To watch over the deal, H&M and IndustriALL say they will set up “national monitoring committees” drawing on representatives from the brand and the global union’s local affiliates, starting with Cambodia and a few others.

“We have just started working on an implementation plan, which means among other things setting up the national monitoring committees and preparing training for both the suppliers and union representatives,” Mr. Raina said in an email.

“We will start from the priority countries Cambodia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Turkey, and then expanding to other countries.

“For Cambodia, we yesterday agreed on a first implementation meeting to be held on 7 December in Phnom Penh.”

According to IndustriALL, as of 2014 the company was sourcing from 58 factories employing some 70,000 workers in Cambodia, about 10 percent of the local garment industry.

H&M spokesperson Ulrika Isaksson said the deal also covers the factories subcontracted to make its clothes by the factories it buys from directly.

“In the initial phase, we are evaluating the specific needs of the suppliers and the workers’ representatives when it comes to information and education. This evaluation will make it possible to adapt the work to the unique needs of each country,” she said.

William Conklin, country director for the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based labor rights group, said H&M was already one of the most engaged brands in Cambodia. But he said there was still plenty of room for improvement, and highlighted the abuse of short-term contracts, which limit the benefits workers can claim.

“It’s a step in the right direction globally, and maybe IndustriALL will get more involved with H&M here,” he said. “There’s more to be done and maybe the framework agreement will help.”

The spokesman for the Labor Ministry could not be reached for comment.

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