“When I read headline, I thought it must have been a repost from The Onion: “H&M Named World’s Most Ethical Company”. I sat at my computer for a few minutes in a hazy fog of confusion and disbelief while a running list of H&M’s fashion malpractices ran through my mind, ” writes Green Peace`s Shannon Whitehead. Click here to read Shannon’s article on medium.com which got my attention.
I have personally blogged on H&Ms sweatshop ‘mishap’ such as the mass faintings in Cambodia which have never been explained to this day. I’ve also questioned their organic credentials which turned out to be technically okay, for at least the parts they promised to be organic.
The problem with green wash is that you can call it organic if just one step in the process is organic, anything can be called ethical if someone else is doing worse and in any case the companies outsource the unethical bits and wipe their hands of responsiblity such as in the Bangledash factory collapse where several Western country called them ‘suppliers’ doing ‘samples’.
Bangledesh and Cambodia continue to have the lowest paid textile workers in the world and H&M continue making there for that reason.
Who is Ethisphere who awarded H&M ‘the world`s most ethical company’ ?
I had never heard of them until recently, this is probably because I tend not to look at multi-nationals, but rather focus positively on the middle and small brands who put ethics and profits in more of a balance.
According to the Ethisphere website, ‘The Business Ethics Leadership Alliance (BELA) is a membership organization of leading companies created to foster the sharing of best practices in governance, risk management, compliance and ethics allowing members to leverage the collective experience and expertise of their peers.’ Membership costs just under $10,000 (which might go in handy towards paying workers above living wages).
In Ethisphere’s defense, they do seem to concentrate on anti-corruption and corporate responsibility (ie. donations to charities) and that is their definition of ethical. Their membership includes a large chunk of mining and oil companies, and they encourage transparency and safety. They are CEOs from another world, who talking about business sustainability and not environmental sustainablity. A world without expanding profit is inconceivable to them.
The Ethisphere 2015 Honour List
The 2014 Honoree list of ethical companies include the Gap and Levi Strauss, as well as H&M. As you would expect there are no organic company, nor companies that pride themselves on balancing profit and ethical treatment of workers. These awards are about transparency and lack of corruption from an sustainable business perspective. The companies nominated produce off-shore by ever changing suppliers which means they disassociate themselves with any ‘mishaps’.
Why H&M? Zara vs H&M
Even if they were to reword it to ‘the most ethical multinational‘ or ‘the most ethical fast fashion chain‘, I don`t see how H&M could beat Zara, who still make in their home country Spain and whose quality and the life of the garments is so much better then disposable H&M gear. (Of course Zara couldn`t compete with several medium to large size brands like Tree People or the numerous niche brands producing organic and local made clothes in their home countries).
So, I`m confused but after research less so than Shannon Whitehead. Cleary these awards have no relevance to people interested in ethical fashion because they are about multinational issues and perhaps green wash marketing.
PS. In March H&M also had to pull a graphically anti-semitic singlet from their lines after complaints. For more click here.