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H&M to Fortify Labor Initiatives by 2018

H&M’s garment workers are on a path towards better equality in the apparel industry.

On Tuesday, the Swedish fashion chain said it will implement proper pay structures and have elected committees for workers that make H&M garments by 2018, as part of its ongoing efforts to halt labor exploitation, Reuters reported.

“We know that getting a job in the textile industry can be an important driver for independence for women,” said Elin Astrom, head of H&M’s Sustainability Program in India. “We do face challenges ourselves within the industry when it comes to working conditions, excessive overtime, wages, etc. and we are trying to address this in several ways.”

In recent years, the fashion industry has been scrutinized for neglecting dangerous factory conditions and workers’ welfare. Several apparel companies, including H&M, have been called out by many trade union coalitions, including the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), for failing to treat workers properly.

In May, AFWA released a study that indicated H&M factory workers in Cambodia and India suffered from inadequate pay, unregulated employment and termination upon pregnancy. In response to the AFWA data, H&M announced that it would work with global organizations and trade unions to improve workers’ conditions.

Despite efforts to curb labor exploitation, Astrom discussed how H&M found it difficult to express issues, including freedom of association, to factory owners worldwide. Astrom also said H&M is working with its main suppliers to establish capacity building programs for workers, so that their voices may be heard. Furthermore, H&M is creating adequate pay scales to ensure that workers are compensated fairly based on their experience and skills.

H&M sources its clothing from 25 global factories which employ 1.6 million workers. With better wage regulations and elected committees, H&M’s garment workers will be able to support their families and establish a more democratic work environment.

“We have a goal with all our strategic suppliers to have democratically elected workers committees by 2018 as one step towards this,” Astrom said. “We are also committed that every garment worker should earn enough to make a decent living and we want to ensure this across the industry.”

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H&M’s labor initiative statements follows the company’s fourth quarter and full year financial results. On Jan. 31, the retailer indicated that profits decreased by 12 percent to $2.74 billion for the full year ended Nov. 30, 2016, despite achieving $25.43 billion in sales over the past 12 months. To improve its 2017 financial outlook, H&M is fostering its supply chain with RFID technology investments, automated warehouses and will offer next-day delivery options for consumers worldwide.