London - In spite of the pledge made by leading retailers to introduce substantial change in the working conditions of its millions of garment workers around the world following the Rana Plaza collapse in April, 2013, conditions have yet to improve overall, even in other production countries. H&M has been called out for working with apparel factories in Myanmar which employ workers as young as 14, who labour away for over 12 hours a day, according to the book 'Modeslavar.'
The authors of the book, Moa Kärnstrand and Tobias Andersson Akerblom, met with 15 year old girls, one of who started working at the age of 14 and regularly worked until 10 pm, which is a violation of both international labour convention and Myanmar laws. In the book, set to launch in Sweden next week, the girls claim the two factories they work for - Myanmar Century Liaoyuan Knitted Wear and Myanmar Garment Wedge, near the country's capital Yangon - will employ anyone who wants to work. H&M is one of the factories clients.
H&M counters 14 year old working in Myanmar is "not a case of child labour"
The Swedish fast-fashion retailer has responded to the allegations and claims it had taken action together with both factories mentioned in the book. In an official statement send to FashionUnited, H&M links the teenagers late working hours to "problems with ID-cards and overtime," adding: "it is of utmost importance to us that our products are made under good working conditions and with consideration to safety, health and the environment."
H&M notes that its working conditions are based on the country's legislations as well as the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention on child labour, which allows children as young as 14 to work in developing countries such as Myanmar, although those between 13 and 15 may do "light work" as long as it does not threaten their safety or health or affect their education. "When 14–18-year-olds are working it is therefore not a case of child labour. ILO instead stresses the importance of not excluding this age group from work in Myanmar."
"H&M does of course not tolerate child labour in any form." The fast-fashion retailer added that both factories have adopted an action plan to counter the long working hours faced by the age group 14-18 and continues to check that its suppliers follow their "strict code of conduct through thousands of controls and worker interviews every year. We also ensure that our demands, as well as legislation, are complied with through close and long-term collaboration with suppliers and local unions."
Unfortunately this is not the first time alarms have been raised concerning the working conditions in Myanmar, which has opened its garment industry to international brands since 2011. A report released last year by Oxfam, entitled Made in Myanmar , argued that garment workers were working up to 11 hours a day, six days a week, but remain trapped in poverty. Which is not surprising, considering that Myanmar has one of the lowest minimum wages in the world, 2.30 pounds per eight hour day.
H&M is not the only fashion retailer which produces apparel in Myanmar. Over the years other retailers including Marks & Spencer, Primark and New Look have followed H&M, C&A and Gap to Myanmar. According to a report in the Guardian, all British retailers mentioned claim to have strict policies in place policies which prevent their suppliers from using child labour.
Photos: Factory employees at one of H&M’s suppliers in Bangladesh,
Photo Copyright: GMB Akash