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New Study Cites Frequent Fainting in H&M Supplier Factories in Cambodia

Despite H&M’s best efforts to convince people that it’s working hard to reduce its environmental impact and improve its supply chain practices, new research revealed workers’ rights violations in some of the retailer’s best-in-class suppliers in Cambodia.

The Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) and the Norwegian NGO Future in Our Hands published a report Friday—with the assistance of the Clean Clothes Campaign and Swedish NGO Fair Action—that found general working conditions at H&M platinum suppliers Eastex, Vanco and Seduno were actually worse than at its gold supplier M&V.

According to interviews conducted in February and March, between two and four workers on average fainted every month within the last year at Eastex, Seduno and Vanco. Thus, the report estimated that as many as 140 fainting incidents occur each year in these factories. In addition, workers at M&V said they had observed fainting occasionally in the last year.

“The faintings occur in H&M’s platinum and gold suppliers—assumed to be among the ‘best-in-class” factories. It is justified to ask what conditions leading to faintings one can expect to find in factories not scoring that high in H&M’s supply chain and elsewhere in the garment sector,” the report said.

H&M classifies suppliers graded platinum or gold make around 60 percent of its products and are deemed “strategic partners” and “preferred” factories.

“They benefit from long-term partnerships including incentives such as joint capacity planning up to five years ahead. This allows their factories to use their capacity as efficiently as possible and gives them greater planning security,” the website reads. “Only suppliers with the best performance in all areas, including sustainability, can become such strategic partners. And we work very closely with them to together become better every day, for example through trainings, workshops or even joint investments.”

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Unfortunately, fainting is a common occurrence in several Cambodia garment factories. For instance, nearly 350 workers fainted in four different factories across Cambodia in the space of a few days in July 2015. However, none of those facilities are listed on H&M’s supplier list.

The researchers also discovered that H&M failed to live up to its own sustainability guidelines regarding contracts and freedom of association, with workers reporting wage cuts for arriving a few minutes late, inadequate sick leave practices and toilet break restrictions.

Even though the retailer has pledged to work toward a living wage with its Fair Wage Method project, and despite Cambodia’s garment sector raising the monthly minimum wage to $140 this year, workers at M&V reportedly earn as little as $136 per month.

“H&M has committed to support factory owners to develop pay structures that enable a fair living wage. Better planning of orders and more stable purchasing practices are key elements to this,” Carin Leffler, special advisor at Future in Our Hands, said in a joint statement Friday. “The situation at M&V and the platinum suppliers at time of the research does not reflect these commitments.”