Human Right to Water and Sanitation

H&M Position Paper – Human Right to Water and Sanitation

Pioneering water stewardship for fashion.

Water’s central role in human development

Through the UN Millennium Development Goals, world leaders committed to fight poverty, hunger and disease, protect the environment, establish a global partnership for development, and to achieve these goals by 2015. One of the enablers of the success in reducing extreme poverty rates is the progress made in halving the number of people living without access to a safe source of drinking water. But a lot remains to be done. One out of ten people still live without access to clean, safe water. In total 768 million people lack access (WHO/UNICEF Joint monitoring programme report 2013 update). By 2050 more than 40% of the world’s population will live in areas experiencing water stress.

Alongside the issue of safe water lies the often invisible problem of sanitation. One person in three – an estimated 2.5 billion - lacks access to adequate sanitation.The lack of access to safe water and sanitation trap people, especially women, in a cycle of poverty and disease. Women spend hours each day sourcing and carrying water, time which could be spent generating income. In 2012 there were around 2000 children dying every day from diseases caused by dirty water from poor sanitation (Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group, CHERG, 2012 and Unicef Child Mortality Report, 2012). It is estimated that up to 10% of the global disease burden could be reduced through improved water supply, sanitation, hygiene, and water resource management (UN Water: The United Nations World Water Development Report 3, Water in a Changing World, 2009).

Water is a shared local resource that needs protection. Water and sanitation are basic human rights and governments, civil society as well as private corporations need to recognize their respective responsibilities. Water allocation and water quality needs to be managed so as to satisfy the competing demands of people, planet and production. For water dependent businesses any interruption to water sources represents a significant risk.

Water risk and water stewardship

Water is a key resource for H&M. It is crucial in production of raw materials, such as cotton, and in textile and garment manufacturing wet process (e.g. dyeing and washing). About a third of the factories that make clothes for H&M using wet processes are located in areas already experiencing extreme water scarcity, or will be by 2025 - yet their operations depend directly on the availability of water.

Being a global company with 4,972 stores in 73 markets worldwide and production offices in both Asia and Europe, the changing water world will affect a significant proportion of our customers, employees and people in communities where our value chain operates. This challenging combination of factors means that improving water use practices throughout the value chain is of huge importance to H&M, and should be for everyone in our industry.  

Corporations must look beyond the fence lines of their own operations and into the local water situation in their supply chain in order to really understand the water risks they face and how they should prevent and address their water impact.

The fashion industry’s leading water steward

H&M has set our sight on becoming a leading water steward in the fashion industry. We are committed to ensuring that water is used responsibly throughout the company’s value chain. H&M does this to minimize risks in our operations, to protect the environment and to secure the availability of water for people. We are convinced that taking a leadership role on water issues through environmental and social water stewardship initiatives outside our fence line will help us ensure our own growth whilst also enabling sustainable global development. We believe more corporations need to do the same.

During 2012, WWF and H&M performed a comprehensive evaluation of all H&M´s efforts and challenges in connection to water and the environment, outlining where H&M can have the biggest positive impact. This formed the base of the new H&M water strategy as well as the water stewardship partnership with WWF, launched in January 2013. The water strategy includes over 30 water connected activities – ranging from choosing raw materials with lower water impacts to engaging with local governments to ensure that water is managed efficiently and sustainably and that the impact on people’s livelihoods and other human rights are addressed.
We recognize our responsibility to prevent and address human right to water and sanitation by ensuring responsible water use throughout our value chain. This includes ensuring the access to safe water and hygienic sanitation in our operations.

In some markets of importance to H&M, we have gone beyond our responsibility to respect. Through collaborations with organizations as WaterAid, who work to build local and national water and sanitation capacity and good governance, we aim to contribute to the advancement of human right to water and sanitation benefitting vulnerable communities.

A collaborative approach

To deliver real change a collaborative approach is needed. Government, corporations, civil society and local communities all have a role to play. This is why we are a founding signatory of the United Nations CEO Water Mandate, a unique public-private initiative designed to assist corporations in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices

The CEO Water Mandate are currently working to develop a guideline on what it means to bring a human rights lens to corporate water stewardship efforts due for release in 2014. We aim to ensure adherence to best practice recommendations, and look forward to integrate the CEO Water Mandate guidance in our existing work. These commitments will apply to all entities within the H&M Group.

H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB, November 2013


Here you find the list of our various policies.

Water Strategy

We have a extensive water strategy. And together with WWF we are aiming to become the leading water steward in the fashion industry.

Sustainability Reports

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