Swedish retailer H&M is regularly named and shamed for the part it’s played in promoting overconsumption and its latest Conscious Actions Sustainability Report, released Thursday, goes to great lengths to change that conversation.
The report outlined how the company did last year regarding existing programs and practices: for example, some 1.3 million pieces were made with closed-loop materials, an increase of more than 300 percent compared with 2014.
H&M also highlighted that more than 22,000 tons of garments have been collected through the retailer’s in-store recycling program since 2013 (nearly half of which were gathered last year), noting that that’s about as much fabric as in roughly 100 million T-shirts.
In addition, the report noted that renewable electricity represented 78 percent of its total electricity use globally, which in turn helped to reduce emissions by 56 percent.
Other highpoints included: all down products hitting stores in Autumn/Winter 2016 are from certified sources; all denim garments are now scored by Jeanologia’s Environmental Impact Measurement tool; organic, recycled and Better Cotton now represent 31 percent of total cotton use; and it claims to be one the biggest users of recycled polyester in the world.
“We are leading the way today within several sustainability areas and I want us to continue to raise the bar,” CEO Karl-Johan Persson said, but was quick to add, “It is a very complex issue and we are certainly not at the end yet—there is more to do, for us and the entire industry.”
A major benchmark for sustainability, of course, is fair labor practices, and the report stressed that wages and workplace safety are key concerns, particularly in Bangladesh and Cambodia.
Last year H&M signed a global framework agreement with IndustriAll and the Swedish union IF Metall to promote sustainable industrial relations and collective bargaining through its global supply chain. It also implemented a Sustainable Impact Partnership Program (SIPP) and evaluated the performance of 80 percent of its supplier factories at least once in 3,556 audits and 1,209 assessments. On average, each active first-tier factory was assessed 1.4 times.
More to do
The retailer is now working to build upon previous programs. During 2016, its Code of Index (ICoC) will be replaced with a new Sustainability Index, which combines compliance against fundamental requirements with results from management system analysis and the performance against impact KPIs. It also transferred its Code of Conduct from a compliance-based approach to a Sustainability Commitment on Feb. 1 that adds expectations and guidance for suppliers to go beyond laws and international conventions into more aspirational ones.
While the report acknowledged that many of H&M’s Bangladeshi suppliers are facing delays for structural repairs, a point that was recently raised by the Clean Clothes Campaign along with other labor rights groups, the company said that all of its factories have been approved for operation by the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.
The retailer also promised to continue to develop its purchasing practices to further support suppliers in paying a fair living wage and reducing overtime. Last year, 68 of its strategic supplier factories in China, Bangladesh and Cambodia enrolled in the Fair Wage Method—which includes ensuring that compensation covers workers’ basic needs and a discretionary income—and for 2016, it will scale that by adding 78 more in Indonesia, India and Turkey.
Other sustainability efforts underlined in the report include water stewardship, waste and chemical management, and the need for industry-wide collaboration was a common thread throughout.
“It would be devastating if foreign companies such as H&M determined wage levels in any countries. In addition, the fact that we share suppliers with many other companies—both high-end and high-street brands—makes collaboration even more important to be able to deal with this challenge. It is a shared responsibility,” Persson stressed.
He added, “You can only drive real change if you have a collaborative mindset, no matter if it is collaboration about consumer labeling or something else. You cannot do it on your own; it is as simple as that. This is why we want to cooperate within the industry, as well as across industry borders.”