Swedish retailer H&M said it makes every effort to ensure its cotton does not come from appropriated land, however, the company admitted that it cannot provide an absolute guarantee.
The statement from the world’s second-largest retailer is in response to a Swedish television show’s accusation that H&M was using cotton from areas in Ethiopia that are vulnerable to land-grabbing. Land-grabbing is used to describe the buying or leasing of land in developing countries without the consent of the surrounding local communities. Governments of developing countries often sell the land to foreign companies as an attempt to boost agriculture, but in some cases local farmers are forced off their property.
According to a company statement, “H&M does not accept appropriation of land, so-called land-grabbing. Because of that we demand that our suppliers ensure that they do not use cotton from the Omo Valley region where there is a higher risk for land-grabbing.”
H&M said its risk assessment showed that land-grabbing did not take place where its direct suppliers are located and that it was not possible to trace any land-grabbing further down its cotton delivery chain. “The cotton used in our products come from different regions and we therefore cannot guarantee that the cotton fiber is not from the affected areas. Today we can only trace organic cotton and sustainable cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative. Our goal is to use 100 percent of the cotton by the year 2020, which will allow for better control. We are already the world’s biggest buyer of organic cotton,” H&M noted.
The Swedish retailer has been at the forefront of promoting Ethiopia’s garment industry since it began sourcing from the African country in 2013. It noted that its experiences in dealing with other global textile industry issues, like wage talks in Bangladesh, are lessons it takes with them as the company begins to form partnerships with Ethiopian suppliers.
H&M said it welcomes the review of its operations and a discussion of how the industry as a whole can work to affect the textile industry in a positive way. “Together with other stakeholders, we have a responsibility to deal with the problem of land-grabbing. By attending in the country work preventively, we see that we can influence in a positive direction,” the retailer shared.
The company added that it has also discussed the issue of land-grabbing with representatives of the Ethiopian government while also keeping an ongoing dialogue between aid agencies and the Ethiopian government. H&M said, “Key issues are how local people are involved and compensated properly when the state leases land.”