Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) said it was working with trade unions, government as well as the U.N. to improve workers’ conditions after a study found violations in supplying garment factories in India and Cambodia.
Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) found through a study that workers stitching clothes for H&M in factories in Delhi and Phnom Penh were having life problems including low wages, fixed-term contracts, forced overtime and loss of incase of pregnancy.
The AFWA, a coalition of trade unions and labor rights groups, accused the Western high street retailer of failing on its commitments to clean up its supply chain. On the matter, an H&M official said that fashion firm has been working dynamically to improve the lives of textile workers for years now.
“The report raises important issues and we are dedicated to contribute to positive long-term development for the people working in the textile industry in our sourcing markets,” said Thérèse Sundberg from H&M’s press and communications department. Adding, “The issues addressed in the report are industry wide problems. They are often difficult to address as an individual company and we firmly believe that collaboration is key.”
In regard of the bad conditions that the workers are forced to live through, the study found that in all factories employees expected an overtime, while most Indian workers reported working at least 9 hours to 17 hours a day.
“Workers are routinely required to work until 2 a.m. in order to meet production targets – and then to report to work at 9 a.m.,” it said, referring to workers in Indian factories. “The financial imperative of working overtime due to the persistence of minimum wage standards below living wage standards can be viewed as a form of economic coercion that leads to involuntary or forced overtime,” it added.
In addition to working for so many long hours and overtime, the study revealed cases of fixed-term contracts being used in 9 of the 12 Cambodian and all Indian factories surveyed. Noting that such contracts deprive workers of most of their vital rights; it facilitate arbitrary termination and deprive workers of job security, pension, healthcare, seniority benefits and gratuity, say activists.
H&M’s Sundberg said solving all these issues was a long-term process which continues “step-by-step” and that the Swedish retailer was committed to improving labour rights in its supplying factories.
“The continued presence of long-term, responsible buyers is vital to the future development of countries such as Cambodia and India, and we want to continue to contribute to increased improvements in these markets,” said Sundberg.