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H&M to Improve Workers’ Conditions in Asia

H&M’s labor efforts are facing a dark moment in Cambodia and India.

The fast-fashion retailer announced that it will work with trade unions and other global entities to improve workers’ conditions after a study found major violations among its supplying garment factories in Asia, Reuters reported.

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) study, titled “Precarious Work in the H&M Global Value Chain,” revealed that H&M garment workers suffered from unregulated employment, inadequate pay and termination upon pregnancy.

“H&M has set themselves apart from other brands by publicly committing to ensure decent work across their supply chain, including by regulating rights abuses perpetrated by subcontractors and ensuring that their purchasing practices facilitate fair living wages for workers. This study seeks to identify gaps in implementation of these commitments by identifying persistent violations of rights at work within H&M value chains in Cambodia and India,” the AFWA said.

According to the study, fixed duration contracts (FDCs) are legally permitted in Cambodia, forcing workers into unemployment without proper transition.

“According to the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), as of December 2015, 31 out of 72 H&M suppliers continued to use illegal contracts,” the study said. Despite H&M promising that it would change Cambodian workers’ contracts, this is still an ongoing problem.

In India, workers also faced temporary employment without access to benefits, pension and healthcare.

“Investigations conducted between August and October 2015, found that all 4 H&M supplier factories surveyed in Delhi-NCR for this study employed contract workers,” the study reported.

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Wage rights were also abused in supply garment factories that produced clothing for H&M. Although the study confirmed that workers in Cambodia and India received minimum wages, their payments didn’t measure up to living costs and industry standards.

“We are evaluating and further improving our purchasing practices to ensure it enables our suppliers to pay a fair living wage and reduce overtime. Our purchasing practices should enable our suppliers to pay a fair living wage,” a public H&M statement said in response to the Human Rights Watch report.

Maternity benefits were also unreachable for workers in Cambodia and India. The study found that in all four factories surveyed, all 50 workers said that women were terminated from their jobs if they were pregnant. Most Cambodian garment factory workers are female and due to unfair labor contracts, most of them aren’t legally entitled to maternity benefits.

“These benefits are only applicable for women who have worked continuously for a minimum of one year at the factory. The requirement of uninterrupted service disadvantages women hired under FDCs who are unlikely to have continuous employment,” the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said in 2014.

Female garment factory workers in India also reported similar situations.

“Permanent workers report being forced to take leave without pay for the period of their pregnancy. Contract, piece rate and casual workers reported that although most of the time they are reinstated in their jobs after pregnancy, they receive completely new contracts that cause them to lose seniority,” said the study.

This report on H&M suppliers demonstrates that workers’ conditions are in the hands of the Swedish fashion retailer, trade unions and global organizations, but with all three entities working together, future progress is possible.