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H&M Employed 14-Year-Old Workers at its Myanmar Factories

Labor laws may be a bit fuzzy where youth workers of a certain age are concerned, but whether lawful or not, H&M has employed workers as young as 14 at its factories in Myanmar.

A new book about to hit shelves in Sweden next week called “Modeslavar,” or Fashion Slaves, said H&M employed 14-year-old children in its Myanmar factories, at times having them work more than 12 hours a day.

The book’s authors, Moa Kärnstrand and Tobias Andersson Akerblom, interviewed girls working at two factories, Myanmar Century Liaoyuan Knitted Wear and Myanmar Garment Wedge, according to The Guardian, and the girls were working late hours not in accordance with the country’s labor laws.

Myanmar has had ongoing problems with child labor, and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) latest project update on Myanmar’s program to eliminate child labor said one in 10 children in the country are working illegally, with more than half of them doing work that’s considered hazardous.

The ILO recommendations regarding child labor say children age 13 to 15 can do light work provided it doesn’t challenge their health and safety or conflict with their education.

Myanmar’s laws for labor say children can be employed from age 13, though those age 13 to 15 can only work four hours a day, while 15-year-olds can work as adults. Age 14, it seems, hovers right on that blurry line.

“When 14- to 18-year-olds are working it is therefore not a case of child labor, according to international labor laws,” the retailer said in a statement to The Guardian. “ILO instead stresses the importance of not excluding this age group from work in Myanmar. H&M does of course not tolerate child labor in any form.”

H&M reportedly took action with both of the factories in Myanmar after coming to know that a group of workers age 14 to 17 had been working long hours since 2013—a fact it deemed “unacceptable.”

“Any overtime must be in accordance with legislation as well as our own demands, this is particularly important when it comes to the age group 14-18,” H&M told The Guardian. “If a supplier doesn’t live up to our standards or national legislation we—in accordance with our routines—demand that the supplier immediately establishes an action plan, which has been done also in this case. One of the measures concerning the two suppliers in questions is improved recruitment routines, which has resulted in improved handling of ID-cards.”

Neither of the two factories have commented on the issue.