Fast fashion retailer H&M revealed Tuesday that it had clothing in the Cambodian factory where 23 people were injured in an accident Monday. The retailer also said that the orders had been placed at the factory without their knowledge, demonstrating the extent of the problems faced by even the most conscientious firms in tracing subcontractors and effectively controlling supply chains.
Subcontracting is a common practice and many retailers have recently experienced its unintended consequences in recent months, as cost savings and flexibility become linked to poor accountability and dangerous factory conditions. This has been seen in the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh as well as fires and the accident in Cambodia. Many authorized suppliers subcontract clothes without permission. Workers’ rights activists scorn the practice for the same reason brands are nervous – it makes it difficult to track the origins of garments, making it harder to verify working conditions and factory safety standards.
Andrea Roos, a press officer at H&M, said the placement of the orders in the factory had been done without their knowledge or permission by a separate approved supplier. She said, “This is not acceptable, since we have a clear policy that all production has to take place in units approved by H&M.
H&M called a meeting of all its Cambodia suppliers on Wednesday for a workshop on the implications of using factories that have not been approved by the company.
The incident occurred when a concrete and steel rest area at the factory operated by Hong Kong’s Top World Garment Ltd. collapsed and fell into a pond.
Koch Ousphea, chief administrator at the factory, said that 16 of the 23 injured workers had been able to leave the hospital and return home as of Tuesday. The factory gave each of the victims $50 in compensation, as well as paying for their medical treatment.
The cause of the accident remains under investigation, and he did not know the supplier with whom the factory was working.
Top world made two “smaller orders” of garments for H&M, according to Roos. She did not specify the size of the orders.
Another press officer for the firm, Anna Eriksson, said, “This is the first undeclared unit case for our approved supplier, and as long as there is a willingness to improve, we prefer to remain a buyer and support our supplier according to an action plan to make the necessary amendments.” She also said that H&M will not contract business with Top World in the future.