Swedish fashion giant faces child labour claims

Organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized, among others, Swedish retailer H&M over alleged child labour and poor work conditions in its Cambodian factories, in a report published on Thursday.

Swedish fashion giant faces child labour claims
Swedish clothes retailer H&M has been criticized by Human Rights Watch. Photo: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Justin Tang

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In the report, which also mentions international brands such as Adidas, Marks and Spencer and Gap, HRW interviews workers at 73 factories in Cambodia and many tell of forced overtime, few opportunities to take a break, and of sexual harassment.

In one of the factories, which produces clothes for H&M, workers describe how they have been made to work on their days off. They also claim that staff at one of the factory's sub contractors uses children as cheap labour.

“Some of the worst employment related crimes happen at the larger factories' smaller suppliers. The reason is that nobody really investigates them,” Aruna Kashyap, who focuses on women's rights at HRW, told Swedish broadcaster SVT.

Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson and Aruna Kashyap at an HRW press conference. Photo: AP

In one factory, workers claimed that their productivity was being monitored on behalf of H&M.

They are now assessing how much time it takes to make a shirt. I don't know what H&M is thinking but this is very difficult for workers. (…) We can't rest. (…) For some types of shirts they are setting 2,000 as quota. We have to meet this quota every day. Otherwise we get shouted at,” he said in an interview with HRW.

H&M representatives told HRW that they have not commissioned any productivity studies in their supplier factories, but added it was possible it could have been done without their knowledge.

Press officer Håcan Andersson told SVT that they have sought information to find out what factories are involved.

“We have asked HRW to share the information about the alleged H&M suppliers mentioned in the report so that we can follow it up on site, but they have not been willing to do that,” he wrote in an email.

He added that H&M representatives are going to meet with HRW later this week.

“They have shown interest in the report and is one of few clothing companies that openly publish the factories they work with,” Nisha Varia, advocacy director of HRW's women's rights division, told SVT.


H&M competitor to sponsor Sweden’s Olympic team

Six months after establishing itself in Stockholm, Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo has announced it will sponsor Sweden’s athletes at the 2020 Olympics.

H&M competitor to sponsor Sweden's Olympic team
Anna Hasselborg of Sweden's curling team tries out new kit supplied for the country's athletes by Uniqlo. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The clothing chain, one of the world’s fastest-growing retail companies, is also set to open more stores in the Scandinavian country.

“Swedes are so sophisticated and warm-hearted,” Uniqlo Europe CEO Taku Morikawa said, stressing how welcome his company has been made to feel.

Morikawa was in Sweden to present the partnership between Uniqlo and the Swedish Olympic Committee at an event at Uniqlo’s store on Hamngatan in Stockholm.

Sweden’s athletes wore teamwear supplied by H&M at the last two Olympic Games.

The Stockholm store, Uniqlo’s first in the Nordic region, opened its doors in August 2018. An expansion is now planned on the Swedish market, although Morikawa declined to reveal where.

“We definitely have plans to open more stores here,” he said.

A store will also open in Danish capital Copenhagen in the coming spring as Uniqlo’s holding company Fast Retailing continues its global expansion.

Sales figures in Sweden’s clothing retail sector have seen a downward trend in recent years, with an exception in 2015.

H&M is usually cited as one of Uniqlo’s main competitors.

The impact of a new player on an already-competitive market is difficult to predict, according to the Swedish Trade Federation (Svensk Handel).

“Locally, competition is sharpened, but competition is already fierce. I would be inclined to say that this type of partly new concept store can, instead, help to revitalise the physical retail sector for clothing,” the association’s head economist Johan Davidson said.  

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