What captured me the most about sustainability is the part that is most of the time forgotten: the social part of sustainability. With this I mean: the very low wages which make the children have to work for the family. There is so much hidden about this subject. And I have my question mark about the stores who says that they are doing anything about it. Because I am studying fashion, I will be focusing on the garment factories. And my main question is: “H&M is using the code of conduct, the contract says that they are not using children to work for them anymore, is this true?”
To come to the conclusion of this research question I asked myself the following questions:
1. How do the companies protect the employers against abuse?
2. How do they check this? (are there really walking people around in the factories from the companies them selves)
3. Isn’t it al a publications stunt?
4. What is happening behind the scenes that we as consumers don’t know?
After the collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. There was a lot spoken about the circumstances in which the employers are working in Bangladesh. A lot of information has come out, shocking details. A documentary (exposure: Fashion Factories Undercover) came out on ITV, which is a British transmitter. This shows that young girls are being kicked, slapped, hit and called very insulting names. Young girls (13 years old) who are forced to work for at least 11 hours a day. Even with all the promises that were made, it has been proven that the children are being traumatized and abused. It has been proven asswell that the fire escaped are being padlocked and the employers that are forced to sign a contract which says they had a safety training, to make this clear: they did not have any training at all.
At this moment there 215 million children economically active. By not sending a child to school, but to work instead, a family is foregoing future income for present ones, as one educate child is likely more to earn in the future.
Parental attitudes is, therefore, very important, although it is not that easy in developing country’s. They have different kinds of values, an other way of thinking. So the parents in these poor situations need to have the fullfillment of seeing the children that go to school, but in these circumstances it is not like that. Besides that what if the western country’s just cut off child labour, what will happen to the children? Instead off making them work for 5 hours a day in better circumstances and for more money, so can they go to school besides working?
One thing about child labour legislation is that it has not been legislated under local pressure, but under international pressures and global settings.
3. Answering to the questions
H&M is aware of the fact that they can influence the fashion industry, but they say it will take a lot of time which they don’t have (they actually want it to do it faster because they feel that it is going to slow). According to H&M they give the employers the so-called “fair living wage”, this is based on the code of conduct. This means they pay the employers enough so they can make a living. But what does this mean? The wages are still low, but they are rising. But is this enough? H&M says they do not own the factories, so this means that they do not control how much money people earn working in these factories. They promote higher wages in these factories, but they cannot control any of it. There are 1946 factories where 872 suppliers make the products for H&M. So once in a while people are checking the circumstances. Which also means that the factories are being checked on whether or not the employers are getting safety training or training sessions to even work in a factory. But here is the deal, what the developing countries see as safe (sustainable) is not what the western part of the world sees as save. The same thing when it comes to the wages, what the factories see as higher wages, is on the other side of the world not so much higher as they claim.
The same counts for child labour, like they said: they check if there is child labour ‘regularly’. And if they found out child labour is being used, they will search for a solution with the families and factories so the children can go to school and the income will be compensated. If this is discovered repeatedly the contract will be ended.
What I am aware of is because of the low wages child labor exists. And because the western side of the world wanted to have more and more, there is also child labor. The second thing is that there is a lot hidden about what is really going on, for years already now.
I have spoken with unicef and for some reason they could not answer my questions (the questions that are written above).
I wanted to know what they did in co-operation with H&M, they had to check with H&M what they could say about it to me. But what they do, in co-operation with H&M, they could not answer me. Which I found very suspicious. H&M was answering the questions I have, but they were talking in circles towards me. They could not answer me straight away. So because of this they actually confirmed my own thoughts and they confirmed the films I saw in the documentary. Employers are forced to put their signature on papers that they actually had a safety training, which they did not have. And when people from companies, like H&M, come to check if there is child labor at the factories, the children are gone while they are checking. And even so the people from the companies are checking once in a while, and like they said: “they do not own the companies”. Which means in my eyes that they do not have any control over the situation. They pretend to know what is going on, but actually they know what they see.