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H&M under fire over Cambodia mass faintings

H&M under fire over Cambodia mass faintings

Published: 09 Feb 2012 08:42 GMT+01:00
Updated: 09 Feb 2012 08:42 GMT+01:00

H&M has been criticized along with several other major clothing makers for how they treat workers in Cambodia, where hundreds of employees at a plant run by the Swedish fashion giant mysteriously passed out in August.

Next week, Cambodian factory workers plan to hold a “people's tribunal” presided over by an international panel of judges who will hear testimony about adverse working conditions and low pay.

While representatives from multinational clothing brands Puma and Adidas plan to attend the hearing, H&M said it won't attend, choosing instead to supply information about what it was doing to address worker concerns, the Guardian newspaper reported.

Jeroen Merk with the Clean Clothes Campaign advocacy group told the newspaper it was "disappointing" that H&M, as well as Gap, wouldn't attend the panel.

The hearing is being organized by the Asian Floor Wage Alliance advocacy group, which argues that conditions in Cambodian clothing factories violate basic human rights and that the minimum wage of $61 per month is too low.

While refusing to send a representative to the hearing, H&M said it welcomes initiatives that highlight issues related to workers' rights.

“We work actively to strengthen the rights of textile workers,” H&M's head of sustainability, Helena Helmersson, told the TT news agency.

“Our code of conduct requires that we pay at least the legal minimum wage. But the same factories that H&M purchases products from also sew for other large chains. There are often misunderstandings about how much control we have over wages.”

Helmersson pointed out that it's hard for clothing companies to determine what an appropriate minimum wage ought to be in a given country and that H&M participates in the Fair Wage Network, which tracks wages paid in the textile industry.

At the hearing, hundreds of workers are expected to testify about a series of mass faintings that occurred in August at factories that supply clothes to H&M and other global brands.

According to Helmersson, the Swedish clothing retailer has hired consultants to examine what may have caused the incident, in which hundreds of workers suddenly lost consciousness.

She said that one explanation may be that the workers lacked ways to air their complaints or that they were working too much overtime.

“Overtime is a general problem in the industry. It's a challenge both for us and for other buyers in these countries,” Helmersson told TT.

The Cambodian textile industry employs around 300,000 workers and grew by 28 percent last year. Most of the factories are owned by Chinese or Taiwanese companies.

The workers are mainly low paid women and the unsatisfactory working conditions have led to a slew of strikes and protests in the last few years.

TT/The Local/dl (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

13:11 February 9, 2012 by sweddut
Most companies in Asia (clothing industry) keep two sets of books, one shown to the buyer during an inspection which shows working hours and salaries paid, when a buyer evaluates a company normally there are also interviews with workers, which are in most cases prepared by the company before hand. Most evaluations are or should be unannounced visits, but this never happens. Why are workers fainting on the job? this has nothing to do with overtime I think but more due too a ventilation system not being present in the factory. What is the roll of the union or NGO's within the factory? Overtime in Asia is a general problem, but why? H&M and other major brands push the price (FOB or CM) to a point of no return for the company, companies need to make a profit, thats why they are in business. Delivery times are shorter and shorter each year pushed on by the major buyers, and if a company does not deliver on time a order is canceled. So where is the responsibility of major buyers respect for the company and its workers. what is 'Our code of conduct' if one looks at this concept which started in the US some 10-15 years ago, why promote it if it does not work. What is the basic function of clean cloths campaign if violation of workers rights keep going on all over the world year after year. Walk into a store of H&M and look at the prices they sell a product, taking into consideration the profit margins they put on - freight - raw materials - labor cost where are you going to cut cost, not in administration - freight - raw materials but in labor cost in most cases. Solve the pricing problem..... This from 25 years experience in the textile and clothing industry in Asia, one of the reasons for getting out of cooperate greed and moving on.
13:28 February 9, 2012 by Brianito
Fair comment "sweddut" .
14:01 February 9, 2012 by azimov
Pernicious effects of global capitalism. At least they weren't working, ie slaving, for Apple, and throwing themselves out of windows.
14:41 February 9, 2012 by philster61
H&M,Apple, Nike......all employ the same sweatshop practice.
16:30 February 9, 2012 by strixy
This is exactly why I only buy second-hand clothes and consumer electronic, I don't own a smatrphone/ipod etc. I want to contribute as little as possible to those atrocities.

Sween has built its wealth on weapon trade, so this story surprises me little. However, I want to have as little to do as possible with this kind of hypocrisy.
22:40 February 9, 2012 by Carbarrister
I am confused. If H&M actually "runs the factory" like it is reported above why should it participate in some kind of collectivist "people's tribunal." it should already know the problem and be addressing it directly. Why would they want to empower the Asian Floor Wage Alliance advocacy group or any other third party which may have a different agenda.
22:10 February 16, 2012 by grov_kvinnofridskrankning
@h&m clothes suk
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