A spoof campaign aims to highlight the contradiction of a high street fashion chain failing to pay workers who manufacture its “sustainable” clothing range a living wage.
Activists say the garment workers who produce the Conscious range of sold by H&M do not earn enough to feed and clothe their families.
The Swedish clothing giant markets the range - which features cocktail dresses, evening gowns and tailored suits costing up to £200 each - as ecologically sustainable as it uses materials such as organic cotton. French actress Vanesssa Paradis is fronting a high-profile advertising campaign aimed at boosting sales.
But the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) says the firm - whose manufacturing is outsourced to more than than 800 factories in Europe and Asia, including Cambodia - is failing to live up to its hype.
It claims thousands of the garment workers employed by H&M suppliers are suffering from malnutrition, and wants the company to take a moral stand by committing to paying a living wage. The Swedish multi-national is the second largest global clothing retailer with annual sales exceeding £11 billion and profits of £750 million.
To make its point, CCC – an alliance of organisations in 15 European countries - has launched a spoof ad campaign, in which Paradis is shown sitting in a leafy garden, surrounded by garment workers, with the text “H&M Unconscious Collapses, start paying a living wage.”
A CCC spokesperson said: “H&M and a small number of big well known brands are the main buyers in Asian garment companies. Their collective buying power could be used to bring about real change for workers.
Wages are 1-3% of the cost of garments. A worker gets just 24 to 72 pence for a garment costing £24 in the shops. Doubling a worker’s wage would help raise people out of poverty whilst adding very little to the shop price.”
H&M says it does not own any factories but expects suppliers to meet strict criteria - including the payment of at least the national minimum wage.
But CCC claims the minimum wage in some countries is below established poverty benchmarks. In Cambodia it is just £41 a month.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress claims many factory owners are hostile to unions. She added: “Working conditions in many factories are appalling with workers facing excessive working hours, poverty wages and poor nutrition. In 2011 we received reports that 2,000, mainly women workers, had fainted on production lines in just 12 garment factories.”
Last week, hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers died and thousands were hurt when an eight-storey factory complex which housed firms supplying Primark and other western clothing brands collapsed.
In a statement. H&M said: “We have a basic code of conduct that factory workers must be paid at least the minimum wage guaranteed by law…. and the salary must enable workers to support their families.
We (also) work to influence developments. In September 2012 the H&M managing director met the Bangladesh government to advance demands for higher wages.”