H&M and C&A investigate Chinese prisoner labour report

London - High street fashion retailers H&M and C&A have launched internal investigations after a report from the Financial Times alleged inmates from a Chinese prison made the packaging they use.

Peter Humphrey, a British corporate investigator, and former journalist is said to have spent 23 months in prison in China after being found guilty of selling illegally acquired private data from Chinese citizens to external clients, charges which he has denied. In the report, Humphrey claims part of the work prisoners included making packing parts for fashion retailers. "Our men made packaging parts. I recognized well-known brands - 3M, C&A, H&M," wrote Humphrey.

Although the article also added that the prisoners made textiles and other components, it did not clarify for which brands they were for. Humphrey noted that the companies they produced for may not have known prison labour was being used to make the products.

H&M said they were looking into the allegations as well, but have not been able to confirm or deny them. "It is completely unacceptable placing manufacturing into prisons and it seriously violates our Sustainability Commitment that our suppliers must follow," said an H&M spokesperson in a statement. "Since it is a non-negotiable requirement, a failure to comply would immediately lead to permanent termination of our business contract. We are aware of the claims and we take it very seriously. At this point we can't confirm whether they are accurate or not. As part of our investigation, we are currently looking for further and more detailed information together with our China based team, as well as reaching out to Chinese suppliers."

C&A's chief sustainability officer, Jeffrey Hogue, said the fashion retailer takes the allegations made in the report extremely seriously and was investigating. "We have a zero tolerance policy for any form of modern slavery including forced, bonded or prison labour. If we detect a case, we immediately terminate our relationship with the supplier," Hogue said in a statement to Reuters.

Over the recent years more and more fashion retailers have been working hard to ensure their supply chains do not include any form of forced labour or migrant trafficking.

Photo: H&M store in Sweden, copyright:Robert Lindholm