H&M made all of its suppliers sign an agreement saying they would not source cotton from the banned nations, and said that any unwilling to sign won’t be doing business with the fast fashion favorite.
“The reason for this ban is that H&M under no circumstances accepts underage workers and/or forced labor being used anywhere in our value chain, including in cotton cultivation,” the retailer said in a statement. “Unfortunately this is sometimes the case in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and H&M does therefore not accept conventional cotton from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan or Syria in our products.”
Uzbekistan has come under pressure in recent years over instances of forced labor, and in a January report, the Cotton Campaign, a human rights coalition united around eliminating child and forced labor from cotton supply chains, urged the United States to cut Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to the lowest ranking in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) slated for release in June. The move, the organization hopes, would spur action on labor laws in the respective countries.
“Citizens of Uzbekistan have documented, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) monitoring reported evidence the Uzbek government used forced labor by compelling more than one million citizens to work in cotton production,” the Cotton Campaign said in comments last month. “The government used coercion to oblige farmers to fulfill production quotas and other citizens to fulfill harvest quotas under threat of penalty. It also took extraordinary measures to cover up its use of coercion, including by arresting, attacking, and intimidating citizens who documented forced labor.”
Turkmenistan, it said, required civil servants to either pick cotton or pay a fine, with punishments including job loss.
“Officials also required some business owners to contribute their employees or a payment, under threat of closing the business. The Turkmen government also suppressed freedom of association and speech, obliging monitors to report on its use of forced labor from outside the country,” Cotton Campaign noted.
Fiber from troubled Syria has been dubbed “conflict cotton” as Islamic extremists have seized fields and taken control of much of the country’s cotton.
As the UK’s Express wrote in September, the situation with Syria’s cotton causes “an ethical headache” for fashion houses and retailers as “Clothing manufacturers could be unwittingly funding the terrorists’ war against the West.”
To avoid all of the above, H&M has simply ruled out all potential incoming cotton from conflict or unethical labor countries. The retailer said by 2020 at the latest, it wants all of its cotton to come from sustainable sources, whether organic, recycled or from the Better Cotton Initiative, and all will be fully traceable.