Fast fashion is known to produce one-tenth of the world’s carbon emissions. H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) is a Swedish originated fashion retailer founded in 1947, and it is the second most popular fast-fashion brand in the world. Operating in 74 countries and 4,856 stores, they sell various clothing brands that focus on their basic yet trendy and up to date clothing products (H&M Group).
H&M fast fashion is a direct response to the faster fashion trends that are short-lived. Many brands compete with one another and attempt to keep up by mass-producing clothing of this type, thus sacrificing the quality of the clothing in order to make the clothes inexpensive yet trendy. Fast fashion is considered a very harmful and unsustainable process because a considerable amount of energy and resources, such as freshwater, are required to make the large quantities of clothes. Throughout the chain of the clothes making process, workers are often treated quite poorly, along with the conditions they must work through, as well as receiving barely livable wages for their labor.
It is evident that toxic animal dyes, as well as fabric dyes and harmful chemicals, are added to their clothes. H&M has been known to accept animal products in the past that have been harvested through abusive methods. Despite scaling back on certain animal materials, H&M continues to use animal hair that “comes from farms with good animal welfare practices that are certified to a credible standard”. H&M also continues to use leather- the skin of animals such as cow, buffalo, sheep, goat or pig that have been bred for meat production. By 2025, they stated that those materials will be completely traceable back to their original sources, yet at the moment no significant changes have been seen or made to improve the sustainability of its animal clothing materials by full substitution. Good On You, one of the many sustainable clothing review companies, explained that “formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms and tracing some animal products to the first stage of production. It uses wool from non-mulesed sheep and down accredited by the Responsible Down Standard. It also banned the use of fur, angora, and exotic animal skins” (Lara Robertson). The Five Freedoms includes the freedom from hunger/thirst, discomfort, pain/illness/disease, expressing normal behavior, and fear and disease. The Responsible Down Standard ensures that the down from geese and ducks used in padded products are harvested under the correct criteria of animal welfare.
H&M is for the most part transparent about the process of their clothing supply chain. They have received a Fashion Transparency Index of 71-80%, and provide their sustainability performance report of the last year (the most recent information provided on the website was updated at the end of the year 2020). Under its supply chain, almost 1.6 million people work for the large company. They promise to shift their clothes-making process from a linear to a circular business model by 2040 through the means of maximizing the efficacy of their products through reusing, recycling, and repairing. However, that promise even if kept would be too late as worldwide climate damage to the environment will no longer be reversible by then. Being such a large scale brand it is understandable that such drastic changes to their business model will take time. However, being the second most popular clothing brand in the world it would only seem right for them to be way more proactive in their efforts to make positive sustainable changes within the faults of their product chain model. Following that promise also came with a statement of how they would create new jobs that accommodate these positive sustainable future shifts by 2040. Back in 2020, 65% of their materials were made from recycled or “sustainable” resources such as recycled polyester, polyamide, glass, plastic, paper, and cashmere. Increasing the use of recycled materials in company products maximize the efficiency of those resources, thus reducing the need to harvest more natural materials from the Earth. This is one of the most simple yet effective ways in which one can improve their company in a sustainable way.
H&M is known to not treat its workers well enough, despite stating that improvements are trying to be made. 62 workers of 6 different H&M supply factories in countries such as Bulgaria, Turkey, India and Cambodia, revealed that “campaigners said none of the workers earned anything near a so-called living wage that would allow them to cover their families’ basic needs” (Reuters). Throughout its entire supply chain, there is no fully transparent information that shows exactly how H&M is currently ensuring every worker is receiving livable wages. Its false promises are simply not enough considering the mass popularity, power, and size of the brand.