Can cheap clothes generate a fair wage? H&M says it can.

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“I think it’s possible. I know it’s possible to be a leader for sustainability and offer fashion and quality at great prices.”– Karl Johan Persson, president and chief executive of H & M, whose grandfather founded the clothing store in Sweden in 1947. As Persson is honoured at the recent Global Fairness Initiative, The Washington Post examines H&M’s sustainable practice.

The company offers a recycling program, which allows customers to return their pre-loved clothing to the stores. They then donate the discarded clothing or have it recycled for industrial purposes. In the long run, the aim is to recycle the clothing as usable fabric that can be stitched into fresh stock for its stores.

H&M is also introducing consumer labeling that provides information to the consumer about how and where a garment was produced. This de-mystifying of the garment cycle is imperative in offering the consumer the chance to choose items which are free of negative environmental and social implications.

The company has also been working with three “role model” factories in Cambodia and Bangladesh where workers receive what H&M describes as a fair wage. Early evaluation of the Cambodia factory shows reduced overtime, better working conditions and a pay scale that takes into account experience. A spokesperson for H & M says the company expects to release final wage numbers on the three factories in the spring so watch this space.

Persson insists that these improvements for factory workers will not affect the competitive prices that H & M offers their consumers. Is his company willing to absorb the cost? “Yes,” he says. “It’s already happening. It’s costing us more, but it’s not costing the customer more.”

It’s fantastic to see one of the high street’s most successful commercial giants taking the lead in the human rights and sustainability movement. Let’s hope that others follow suit.


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