Tobias Fischer, Relations Sustainability manager and Niklas Klingh, Country Manager-India spoke about their role in the supply chain. “We agree that wages should be enough to live on. We are working with our suppliers to ensure compliance on this.”
The brand acknowledged that overtime was also a problem in its supply chain with around 83% of suppliers involved in non-payment of overtime wages. While Fischer acknowledged this to be a problem, he failed to connect the prevalence of overtime hours to extremely low wage levels. Instead, he tried to link the overtime issue to worker’s own wish for more hours and offered to ‘investigate’ the reason behind these wishes.
According to the representatives, the necessity for over time itself at factories is due to ‘poor planning skills’ of the suppliers and H&M is ‘not responsible’ for the efficiency of their suppliers where orders of other brands are concerned, therefor shirking the brand’s responsibility for improvement of working conditions.
After the presentation, some workers took the opportunity to address some of their issues directly with Fischer and Klingh. ‘Why is it that we always get clean masks, fresh water and a cleaned up work floor just before the auditors arrive?’ one worker asked. Fischer said that some foreknowledge of audits is unavoidable: ‘We can come in by the emergency exit, but when you have to spent two or three days in a factory, you can’t help but being noticed.’
Concerning the compliance audits, he pointed out the sensitivity of the issue of worker’s interviews. ‘And we do everything we can to protect these workers,’ said Fischer. One of the judges points out how sensitivity should not be an issue if the human right of freedom of speech would be endorsed at all factories where H&M is producing.
One worker wrapped the obvious conclusion into a question: ‘We are giving you the highest quality of product, we work hard. Can you ask your supplier to pay us a living wage?’