Eco Fashion Q&A: H&M’s Shades of Green
|By Victoria E in Fashion, Green Living | January 16, 2007|
Question #3 comes from TreeHugger’s own Jacob: What is H&M doing that is green (or not)?
At first glance, one would think that such a large company, selling their wares at popularly low prices, would be an eco-disaster. In terms of social responsibility, it is well-documented just how progressive H&M is. The company’s website has an extensive corporate responsibility section, with downloadable reports on their official Code of Conduct, restricted chemicals, animal issues, and more.
2004 was a notable year, thanks to H&M’s partnership with UNICEF. Over the following three years, the Swedish company donated roughly $1.5 million to help fund education programs for girls in Cambodia, as well as HIV/AIDS preventative education for the African country. Now that 2007 has been ushered in, it remains to be seen if this relationship will be renewed.
A 2006 study by the nonprofit Clean Production Action featured H&M as one of the six major companies working to use green chemistry and materials for production. “These six well-known companies are proof that safer chemicals use in products is a goal whose time has come, the report concludes. The case studies show how different tools and approaches can be used — but there must be commitment that the effort will be worth the price.”
The Code of Conduct outlined on H&M’s site is more detailed than most. Following the national laws of each factory’s operating country is noted clearly at the beginning of the repor. Child labor is a frequently covered subject within the company, along with other strict regulations for safety, worker’s rights, factory, housing, and the environment. H&M insists that unannounced visits are made, often by a third-party organization, to ensure all policies are being followed.
Animal rights is also a concern, and company’s reports are specific on their stance on this topic as well. “H&M does not sell any fur products. H&M only sells leather from sheep, pigs, goats, and cattle that have been bred for meat production, not just for the sake of the skin. No other leather is permitted in products sold by H&M. … H&M does not buy leather from India due to the grim conditions in which the animals are transported.” For most, this would be enough to make them feel more comfortable about shopping at one of the company’s many stores. As a vegetarian, I personally see them selling leather as a bad thing, knowing the conditions of the world’s meat market. In the end, that is an individual consideration that has to be made.
“H&M does not allow animal testing on cosmetics and hygiene products, either during production or on the finished products. … All animal testing on end products has been banned since 11 September 2004, i.e. the end product of all the products produced after this date may not be tested on animals. However, the ban on the testing of individual product ingredients on animals will not take effect until 11 March 2009.” This is a notable policy if you happen to be a fan of the cosmetics H&M sells. I’m assuming the extended future effective date on all animal testing is due to forcing their suppliers to phase out this process.
So, to recap, in terms of corporate social awareness, H&M has gone above and beyond most major clothing companies. Though this is true, it is clear that they are not the most sustainable business out there. As an eco-shopper, you could feel better about your purchase by buying from brands like Stewart + Brown or Twice Shy. No mention is made of any sustainable practices used when building or operating their factories or public stores. Only one paragraph heeds mention of organic and sustainable farming methods; another aspect that the brand has marginally experimented with: “… in 2004 H&M started to include 5% organic cotton in certain items of children’s wear. In its first year this was tested out on a few products, but it is H&M’s intention to increase the volumes of organically grown cotton.” This is an area of their business that sorely needs more development if H&M ever hope to be taken seriously as a green(er) company.
Jacob, I hope this extended entry has helped to answer your question. If any of you have other comments you would like to add about H&M’s sustainability (or lack thereof), please don’t hesitate to do so. As usual, I’m always open for more eco-fashion questions, from the mundane to the massive!