H&M is the second largest fast fashion corporation in the world, selling more than 550 million articles of clothing per year. Because fast fashion often signals wage suppression and poor corporate oversight, due to those kinds of numbers alone I’m inclined to place the company on my Do Not Buy list at first glance. It doesn’t help that H&M was caught labeling GMO cotton as organic in 2010.
So when Elizabeth of Delightfully Tacky posted this article on her facebook page a few nights ago, I was intrigued. The article (though poorly written) makes it clear that H&M, whether due to bad PR in the past or to legitimate conviction, is taking markedly big steps to be a leader for change through implementing sustainable and ethical manufacturing programs across its entire production chain.
Below are H&M’s primary sustainability goals as outlined in their Conscious Actions Sustainability Report for 2012:
- Provide fashion for conscious consumers.
- Choose and reward responsible partners.
- Be ethical.
- Be climate smart.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle.
- Use natural resources responsibly.
- Strengthen communities.
It should be noted that H&M is already the largest user of organic cotton in the world (though it is represented in only 8% of garments produced each year). The company’s goal is to utilize only organic cotton by the year 2020. In addition, the company recycles and donates customers’ used clothing in exchange for store coupons, has drastically reduced its water usage, provides Clever Care labels in an attempt to reduce consumer energy usage when washing garments, and provides resources to factory workers and their families around the world.
I appreciate the thorough and thoughtful information H&M provides to its customers and I’m encouraged by the potential social rewards successful implementation of all policies will have on the fast fashion industry. It all looks great and I’m glad that a retailer of such grand proportions is taking steps to improve the industry. But I’m still concerned about the scale of operations. I still think that it can’t just be about making fast fashion better, but reducing fast fashion, throwaway culture all together. I have a specific problem with the donation trade-in program, as it doesn’t address the fact that Americans donate so many articles of clothing each year that we actually export thousands of garments to third world countries.
My other concern is that corporate oversight of labor conditions is often unreliable. A company can say all it wants about making the world a better place, but if it’s not paying careful attention to every factory and picking up on subtle signs of abuse, corporate social responsibility standards may as well not exist.
All this to say that I’m cautiously optimistic about H&M’s recent efforts to provide ethical, sustainable fashion in an industry marked by greed and abuse.
What are your thoughts?