Despite a positive move H&M still falls short of meaningful transparency

H&M has announced positive new steps toward supply chain transparency that should be followed by other brands. However, much more is needed for consumers to have the kind of information that can actually make a difference when they are shopping for clothes.

H&M will be linking supplier names, factory names and addresses, as well as the number of workers in the factories to every individual product they are selling. Consumers can see the information when shopping online, or by scanning the price tag with the H&M app in a brick and mortar shop. H&M stated that this step will “make it easier for customers to make more informed choices when shopping”.

It cannot be denied that this is an important step for a brand that already belonged to the forerunners among garment brands in the field of transparency. Given the slow pace of progress in this regards, it would be great if more brands followed this example. However, while this step is important, it still lacks vital information for consumers to make the “informed choices” H&M is aiming at.

Transparency is primarily a means to an end, and mere information about where a garment is produced does not really lead to “informed choices” on the part of consumers.

Being transparent about the connections in the supply chain allows workers and activists to link up concrete labour rights violations in a certain factory to the brand at the top at the supply chain with the means and the power to change the conditions at the factory. That is good, and therefore we ask all brands to do this.

For consumers, however, knowing that a certain piece of clothing comes from a specific production location with a certain number of workers is not much to go by with – not without any further information about working conditions in that factory.

In other words, to make this extra layer of transparency meaningful for consumers H&M should also disclose information that can actually influence shopping behaviour.

As Anna Bryher of Clean Clothes Campaign UK said, “Maybe H&M need to think a bit more about how to make that information live and useful to consumers - adding information for example about wages paid at suppliers and comparing that to the living wage benchmarks or their promises on living wages.”

Before and during the #TurnAroundHM campaign we have repeatedly asked for specific information on wages that H&M continues to keep out of the public eye.

This is the level of transparency that we expect in the area of wages as an immediate follow-up to H&M’s recent announcement of increased supply chain disclosure:

  • Information on the living wage pilot projects carried out as part of H&M’s commitment, including concrete factory information, wage level and development through time at each factory, and lessons learned.
  • Definition of a “fair living wage” as well as information on the proposed methodology to calculate a “fair wage” and to make sure that it is actually paid.
  • Based on the above definition, minimum acceptable wage levels – in concrete terms – for all H&M’s production countries.
  • Detailed information about efforts made within existing living wage initiatives such as ACT.
  • A cost breakdown of the pricing structure, specifying how labour costs are calculated at present and how that is different from before H&M’s living wage commitment was made, including information on how much more H&M is paying to suppliers to ensure that FOB-prices are high enough to pay all workers the “fair wage”. (Note: FOB stands for “free on board”, which is a price that includes all costs up to placing the garments aboard a ship an overseas vessel.)

In addition, H&M should regularly publish up-to-date information on wages paid at each supplier factory, so that progress toward the specific wage increase targets can actually be measured.