But we believe that bringing about sustainable change on complex issues, such as wages or freedom of association, requires more than just monitoring. Our aim is to shift from regulating and closely monitoring our suppliers, to creating sustainable progress with the active participation of our suppliers’ factories and their workers. To tackle issues at an industry – or country – level, we also believe in engaging with industry bodies and governments, as well as trade unions, NGOs and other brands. This is a vital part of our approach and our daily work. We therefore focus on three major areas.
Capacity building & supplier ownership
Lasting improvements require our suppliers to understand their sustainability issues better and to see the benefits of good social and environmental performance. In the long run, we want our suppliers to take charge of their own sustainability. We call this approach supplier ownership. Besides auditing their progress, today we focus on supporting our suppliers by building up management knowledge and capacities and helping them to assess their own performance so that they can detect opportunities to improve their business.
Raising workers’ awareness of their rights
If we want our suppliers to be in charge of their own sustainability in the long run, this needs to involve their employees. Employees need to know their rights and how to claim them. Ultimately, we want them to be able to influence their situation through dialogue with their employers. Achieving this position remains a challenge today as many sourcing countries lack adequate systems for industrial relations and, even if they do exist, workers’ committees do not always function effectively.
To tackle these challenges, we have in recent years initiated training programmes to raise workers’ awareness of their rights and procedures to claim them. For several years, through our audit programme, we have also monitored the existence and effectiveness of worker/management communication systems, such as grievance systems and effective workers’ committees.
Wages in our supply chain are a key focus of our sustainability work. We want all workers in our supplier factories to earn a fair wage. Wage structures in global supply chains are often complex. For many years now, we have required all our suppliers to pay their employees the wages they are entitled to by law or through other applicable standards such as collective bargaining agreements. We have used our influence on public policy in Bangladesh to raise minimum wage levels and we promote social dialogue and freedom of association. H&M is actively involved in the Fair Wage Network, an initiative which works to bring together fashion brands, garment producers, NGOs, workers’ representatives and researchers to promote fair wages around the world.