The new agreement, signed last week by ILO director-general Guy Ryder and H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson and Anna Gedda, the apparel company’s head of sustainability, continues the long-term collaboration between H&M Group and the ILO, broadening it to include more of the Swedish fashion firm’s business functions.
“The continuation of this successful partnership with H&M Group is important, as it provides a basis on which to continue to promote both the Decent Work Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals in workplaces worldwide in a key economic sector,” said Rie Vejs-Kjeldgaard, director of partnerships at the ILO. “Lessons learned from these kinds of partnerships are important to inform the ILO’s work with the private sector.”
The ILO said its flagship Better Work Program, which is jointly managed by the International Finance Corporation, will play a key role in implementing activities under the agreement. The program operates in seven countries–Bangladesh, Cambodia, Haiti, Indonesia, Jordan, Nicaragua and Vietnam–working with roughly 1,600 factories employing close to 2.2 million workers in order to improve working conditions.
“We know strengthened industrial relations and social dialogue are a must when working towards improved working conditions and productivity within the supply chain,” Gedda said. “Thanks to our longstanding partnership with the ILO, which now has been renewed, we can continue working together toward this goal.”
H&M Group and the ILO have been working together since 2001 in countries like Cambodia and Bangladesh, addressing a range of issues, including wages, work quality, productivity, and the documentation and recognition of workers’ skills.
In signing the agreement, the ILO and H&M jointly acknowledged that systemic changes are needed in areas like labor relations, and governments, trade unions and employers’ organizations will have to work together. While global production systems have created millions of job opportunities in the garment sector, mostly for young women, wages and working conditions aren’t always in compliance with national labor laws. In addition, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are at times restricted or denied. Legal minimum wages are also not always implemented or enforced or are set too low to adequately support livelihoods.