The fashion industry ability to fuel the cycle of fast fashion has long thrived through cheap labour in underdeveloped countries. An infrastructure driven primarily by young women and children trying to make a living paycheck to paycheck, the morals of the industry has been at the forefront of discussions in recent years, with constant mounting pressure to overhaul its business model. It has taken tragic incidents, as Rana Plaza to shine a spotlight on the inner workings of sweatshops to unveil the unfair working conditions and cheap labour used by many well-known brands. One brand in particular – Swedish giants H&M pledged in 2013 to overhaul its supply chain and ensure that factory worked are paid a fair living wage. Now five years into the pledge, the number of factory workers now earning a fair living wage, according to H&M’s global head of production David Savman – zero. On a recent tour, a factory worker named Srey Neang in Cambodia told Reuters, “Our salary does not allow us to save money — it’s barely enough to live.”
According to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO), the global fashion industry employs approximately 60 million people. Srey Neang is one of 1.6 million people that work in a factory that supplied H&M. Their five-year pledge has protected Neang, creating safer working conditions, yet the conversation of paying a living wage enough to help fund basic needs is one that still needs to be had.
“So what if workers in their (H&M) factories are paid better than other factories? They’d have a steady supply of labour. It’s not an excuse for not moving ahead.” Said Willian Conklin, head of Solidarity Centre, a U.S.-based non-profit promoting workers. Conklin stated while H&M deserve some credit for doing more than others, they should set out to reach an agreement with the suppliers in order to set an example for other brands. “If H&M really wants to pay a living wage, they can go directly to their supplier and make an agreement,” he said, adding that this could encourage competitors to follow suit.