H&M briefing, Jan 2004


H&M: economic miracle?

H&M isn't just a store chain. This is a real money machine. (Financial analyst, 2003)

H&M: sweatshop chain

In Bangkok, Thailand, workers as young as 16 years old sew H&M clothes until 11pm, nearly every night, for illegal wages.

In Indonesia 500 workers producing H&M walked off the job in protest of wage rates that are below the legal minimum. At the factory producing for H&M, some people work up to 60 hours per week - sometimes taking clothes home to finish sewing - for as little as $1 per day.
When the workers walked out, the factory shut the doors, locking them out and refusing to let them back to work. The entire workforce at the factory - 2,000 workers in total - went on strike in protest of the company’s illegal wages and forced overtime and in support of their locked-out co-workers. Management immediately hired local thugs to intimidate and threaten workers.

1997, From Swedish TV expose of H&M in the Philippines:
Angelina Ingco, a woman working for an H&M subcontractor, tells that she is the only one in the family with a decent job. Her husband is unemployed. The money she earns (100 pesos) is just enough to buy food for her family. The factory she works in is noisy, looks untidy, and children can often be found sleeping on piles of garments. She brings her daughters with her, because she has nobody to look after them. In the Novilon Garment factor two hundred people work from 8.00am until midnight, and sometimes throughout night, depending on how quickly H&M wants an order in. Angelina tells that her daughter does not officially work at the factory, but that she performs certain tasks for the company while she is there. Angelina is very concerned about what is going to happen to her children in the case that she dies. She asks the TV crew if the H&M director Persson can pay for her children's schooling. She says that she would be very grateful if he would do this, and then she starts to cry.

Another 500 people work at home for subcontractors supplying H&M. The TV team visited a homeworkers’ community. Women and children embroider on H&M sweaters by hand. A girl tells that she performs this work when she is not too tired. On Saturdays she combines this work with housecleaning. These tasks can occupy her until midnight. The girl earns 12 cents (US) for each sweater that she embroiders on. It takes her 8 hours to do 2 sweaters. Another girl, Jo-Ann, is 9 years old and folds the sweaters inside out. She is a homeworker and works for a subcontractor. She earns 1 peso for each sweater 4 cents (US). After 4 hours of work she earns 12 pesos.

Union-busting in the United States:
“[H&M US bosses were] treating us like dogs," said Francisca Nuñez

Financial Times on H&M (March 2003)

Recently H&M reported record sales, margins, and profits. In the past four years, sales have doubled to $6.3 billion, and profits are up 150%. This year the company plans to open 110 stores and enter three new countries. Rolf Eriksen, H&M's chief executive officer, says the company's success results from maintaining the right combination between fashion, quality, and price.
Several years ago, H&M's performance wasn't as admirable. The company faced several problems. Prior to Eriksen's leadership, management had allowed high fashion to spread through the whole range of stores' offerings, and costs had gotten out of control. Eriksen focused on cutting costs and buying during season rather than before season. This strategy allows reordering of popular styles and reduces stocks of slower-moving items. Because of the change in buying strategy, inventories have decreased from 14 percent of sales to nine percent.

With costs and inventories under control, Eriksen spends most of his time focusing on the US where the group has 45 stores, with more openings expected in the future. Unlike several competitors, H&M uses the same store standards, pricing strategies, and margins regardless of the location of the store. Eriksen acknowledges one mistake made in the launch of H&M in the U.S. That mistake was announcing the company's plan to open 85 U.S. stores in three years. This drove up costs by weakening H&M's bargaining power in the search for good locations. Even so, U.S. operations have reached break-even before depreciation, and Eriksen expects to reach the same levels of profitability as in Europe.

Recent profits

Swedish fashion retailer H&M saw group turnover increase by 10 per cent at comparable currency rates, with sales of £3,255m. Profits were up 21% at £507,85m across the nine months.
Turnover for the third quarter was to £1,059m, an increase of 7% compared with last year at comparable currency rates. With H&M still expanding its store chain internationally, the increase is evidence of an increasingly competitive clothing market.
H&M said gross margin was 55.6% in the third quarter, with the operating margin of 17.8% the highest ever reached in the group's third quarter. Third quarter profits were £167m, up 9%. H&M said its autumn collections had been well received.
(Financial analyst, 25 September 2003)

One mistake? – abuse of workers in the US

H&M admit to one mistake as they organised their drive into the US market: “announcing the company's plan to open 85 U.S. stores in three years – weakening their bargaining power.”
They also made the mistake of taking on the US unions (see appendix for more details).

UNITE, the US garment workers’ union reports:
H&M opened its first US store in New York in 2000. The company have 58 US stores and aim to open 12-15 stores each year.
In New Jersey 200 workers, mostly Latino immigrants from the Caribbean and Central and South America – work at the main H&M distribution centre. Since H&M first opened workers report that some production rates have more than doubled. Digna Barreta says, “At first we each picked about 400 clothes off shelves each hour to send out. We now pick up to 1,000 clothes every hour, over 8,000 items a day… It’s hard because the workload just continues to increase. If someone can’t keep up they are singled-out and shouted at by management.”

Immediately after opening up in the US the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited H&M for failing to provide a safe workplace and fined the company for what it described as a “serious violation” of OSHA regulations.

Instead of fixing workplace hazards, however, H&M try to cover up its record of abuses. US law requires companies to keep a record of workplace injuries. Upon request the company must share the records. In July 2003 workers requested health and safety records for the New Jersey distribution centre. H&M refused their request and H&M has yet to comply with the law.

Deyanire Bautista has been badly injured three times in the last year. Twice when working in narrow, overcrowded isles when heavy boxes have fallen on top of her. I another incident Deyanire explains, “I suffered an abdominal strain trying to lift a 50-pound box. My doctor ordered me to stay off work for a month… management ignores our injuries and just demands more and more production. They don’t care how man people are hurt in the process.”

Workers report a pattern of abuse and harassment from supervisors and managers. Ana Maria Araujo has worked at the distribution centre for over a year. In June 2003 she requested ten days leave to be with her hospitalised daughter – her legal right. Management denied her request.
Francisca Nunez faced harassment and discrimination after she informed management that she was pregnant “The pressure from my manager became unbearable, I would tremble when my manager walked by.”

Most workers at the H&M national distribution centre earn wages below the national poverty threshold. The starting rate is $8.50 per hour. Raises are on “merit”, which means management can pick favourites and some workers don’t get raises at all.

H&M expensive medical insurance plan is out of reach for many workers. For workers who earn bi-weekly net incomes of $595-700, comprehensive health coverage costs $163.06 – or roughly a quarter of take-home pay.

In July 2003 workers at the distribution plant began to organise with the Unite garment workers’ union. H&M launched an intense campaign of propaganda, intimidation and harassment to discourage the organising effort. When workers distributed union information to their co-workers outside the plant, the management called the police to arrest them. The workers were not breaking any laws and the police left – so H&M hired security guards. Mandatory anti-union meetings were held in work time. Anti-union letters were mailed out and anti-union videos were shown. Workers were urged to revoke union authorisation cards they had signed.
Rosa Isabel Calero says, “I know we have rights and we will stick together to make sure H&M understands that.”

More about the company

On themselves: “H&M currently has 40,000 employees in about 30 countries. We are opening a hundred new stores, and grow by 3,000-4,000 people each year.”

H&M does not recognise a union at its British stores.

A consultant comments: “H&M has around 900 stores in 17 countries. H&M's stores sell 550 million items per year. The retailer's secret weapon is its quick turnaround time: H&M's in-house team of 95 designers can move a garment from design board to shop floor in as little as three weeks.
“Costs are kept low by outsourcing all manufacturing to a network of more than 900 apparel contractors in 21 low-wage countries such as Bangladesh, China, and Turkey.”

And: “H&M charges relatively low prices and still logs gross margins of 53%, a key measure of a retailer's profitability.”

And: “The Stockholm-based leader in cheap chic boosted net income by 49% last year (2002). Sales and profits in 2002 improved in all markets compared with the previous year. Turnover for the year amounted to over SEK 53 billion (US$6.24 billion), an increase of 15 per cent and profit after financial items was SEK 8.6 billion, an increase of 50 per cent.”


Major advertising campaigns presented by a variety of stars including Iman, Christy Turlington, Bridget Fonda, Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, and Claudia Schiffer.

H&M spends a great deal - 4% of revenues - on marketing. H&M's marketing budget was worth $100 million (US) globally (2001).

Meet the owners

H&M is controlled by the family of chairman Stefan Persson, the billionaire son of founder Erling Persson. They own about one third of the company.
According to the Sunday Times (April 03) Stefan Persson is worth £4.5bn (up from £4bn the previous year). He is the 15th richest person in Europe.
Persson is exempt from wealth tax – as are all the very richest people in Sweden.

History of H&M in their own words

Erling Persson, founder of H&M, started out as a salesman in Vasteras, Sweden. While travelling in the United States, he was inspired by a new type of clothing store that had high turnover in merchandise and kept its prices low. Upon his return to Sweden, he opened the first Hennes store in 1947. It was named "Hennes" (the Swedish word for "hers") because it only sold women's clothes.

Hennes expanded steadily during the 1950's and 60's. When the company was seeking to expand in 1968, Erling Persson bought Mauritz Widforss, a hunting and gun store in Stockholm. A stock of men's clothing came with the store, so the company began selling men's and women's clothes and changed its name to Hennes & Mauritz.

Since 1982, H&M has continued to rapidly expand with Erling Persson's son, Stefan Persson, as Managing Director. In March of 2000, we opened our first US store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

And from Clean Clothes (1998):
H&M is a publicly quoted company but control is firmly in the hands of the Persson family with Stefan, the son of the founder, being chief executive and managing director. The family as a whole owns 70.0 % of the voting rights and 38.4 % of the capital stock of the company, which remains based in Sweden but controls the growing international network from H&M International's offices in the Netherlands (Den Haag).

While expanding in Sweden during the 1960s , H&M also moved into Norway (1964) and Denmark (1967), but waited until 1978 before entering Switzerland and then Germany (1980). An initial move was made into the UK, in 1976, but the other markets expanded far more quickly. The Netherlands (1989) and Belgium (1992) followed, and then Austria (in 1994), just prior to that country joining the European Union. In 1995, Germany overtook Sweden in terms of sales.
Sales outside Sweden exceeded those in the domestic market for the first time in 1990.

H&M child and sweatshop labour scandal

From a Clean Clothes Campaign report: In December 1997 the documentary “H&M: Latest fashion, but at what price?” was broadcast by Swedish television.

In the 1970s H&M started to send production to Asia. H&M established its buying office in Hong Kong, and production sites in China, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

In China, the filmmakers presented themselves as buyers to get entrance in the Chinese factory, Don Guang, which produces for H&M, Lindex and Ellos. The washing department was extremely noisy and the air was dense with chlorine gas. The workers did not wear protective gear. They were washing jeans with their bare hands.
The owner of the factory, Mr. Chang, has companies in the Philippines, Indonesia and China. Most workers stay for 5-6 years. Workers are recruited from the countryside. Mr. Chang brings the workers home once a year, at Christmas time. According to the factory owner, the workers are satisfied to be working for him. Women are employed when they are about 16 years of age. When an order has to be filled within a limited period of time, the workers work 13-14 hours a day, seven days a week.
In the Don Guang factory the workers live in dormitories. The TV crew was able to get past the guards in the dormitory area and to interview some of the workers. Workers earn 500 yuan a month. A room is shared by 16 people, and they sleep on bunk beds. One worker revealed that he earns 600 yuan, including a bonus. Every month he sends 450 yuan home. He works together with his wife in the factory. Their child lives with its grandparents. The worker said that there are a lot of fights in the dormitory area.

In Hong Kong H&M has a team of professional buyers who are searching for the cheapest prices. Every penny is taken into account.
The film crew visited a company in Hong Kong that used to produce for H&M. The owner explained that H&M is a tough company to work for, as they have US management strategies. They can stop placing orders at once. Producers stand in awe of H&M.

In the Philippines the Eaststar Export factory was filmed. This is the second largest garment exporter in the country. Eaststar pays minimum wages, but their subcontractors pay less. The director, B.K. Chung, explains that costs of production are reduced by using subcontractors.

Angelina Ingco, a woman working for Novilon, a subcontractor of Eaststar, tells that she is the only one in the family with a decent job. Her husband is unemployed. The money she earns (100 pesos) is just enough to buy food for her family. Her children go to school, but she does not have money to buy books for them. The factory she works in is noisy, looks untidy, and children can often be found sleeping on piles of garments. She brings her daughters with her, because she has nobody to look after them.
In the Novilon Garment factory, which is a subcontractor of Eaststar, two hundred people work from 8.00am until midnight, and sometimes throughout night, depending on how quickly H&M wants an order completed. Angelina tells that her daughter does not officially work at the factory, but that she performs certain tasks for the company while she is there.
Angelina is very concerned about what is going to happen to her children in the case that she dies. She asks the TV crew if the H&M director Persson can pay for her children's schooling. She says that she would be very grateful if he would do this, and then she starts to cry.

Another 500 people work at home for subcontractors supplying H&M. The TV team visited a homeworkers’ community. Women and children embroider on H&M sweaters by hand. A girl tells that she performs this work when she is not too tired. On Saturdays she combines this work with housecleaning. These tasks can occupy her until midnight. The girl earns 12 cents (US) for each sweater that she embroiders on. It takes her 8 hours to do 2 sweaters. Another girl, Jo-Ann, is 9 years old and folds the sweaters inside out. She is a homeworker and works for a subcontractor. She earns 1 peso for each sweater 4 cents (US). After 4 hours of work she earns 12 pesos.
Rosario del Rosario from the University of the Philippines investigated the situation of working children; they often have a lot of problems keeping up with school, with the result that they often quit.

The Swedish television team asked H&M director Persson to comment on the documentary. At he refused, and stated that the factories profiled in the documentary were not representative of H&M suppliers. Later he became concerned.
After the broadcast H&M has got a lot of media coverage and was urged to improve labour conditions in factories producing for the company. According to the CCC in Sweden 75% of consumers say that they will stop buying H&M clothes, and 70% of want to see a fair trade label on garments.

H&M’s Code of Conduct

From a Clean Clothes Campaign report (1998):
According to H&M, they drew up a set of rules for producers in 1994. The standard contract used prohibited child labour. This contract stated that producers had to comply with local laws and that H&M had the right to unannounced checks of the premises.

The annual report of 1996 states that H&M has never made use of child workers.

In 1996 and in the beginning of 1997 evidence was presented concerning Bangladesh (factory wages that were below the legal minimum, hours that were longer than the legal maximum, anti-union managements, and unsafe work conditions amongst other problems). H&M Belgium sent a letter in which the company stressed that the accusations were unjustified. H&M stated that the issue of labour conditions was of utmost importance, and that the company wanted to improve the well being of its workers.
With regard to childlabour, the company referred to the UN convention on the Rights of a Child, art. 32:1, and to ILO convention 138 which the company expects its producers to comply to. H&M stated that it has a series of criteria which enable the company to control whether a producer respects the requirements of H&M concerning workers’ and children's rights. When a producer does not respect these criteria, the contract will be terminated.

Evidence of violations of basic labour rights by H&M suppliers however kept recurring. In the summer of 1997 CCC Sweden had contact with H&M about specific cases where suppliers broke local labour laws in Bangladesh and in Bombay, India.

After the television documentary in Sweden (see above) had shown child labour practices in the Phillipines, the director of H&M re-stated that his company is firmly anti-child labour. H&M called upon their clothes producers to sign a treaty in which is stated that they have no children working in their factories. H&M also started working on their own code of conduct.

In December 1997, CCC Germany had a meeting with H&M. In detail they discussed the situation in Bangladeshi factories producing for H&M (late payment; excessive overtime; lacking written labour contracts), in the Phillipines (Eastar Export), in Madagascar and Mauritius (low wages), and in the China Guadong Zone (lacking labour contracts; social security issues and forced overtime).
H&M considered the possibility of an “independent” accountant to monitor factory conditions.

H&M produced a Code of Conduct in December 1997.
Some significant differences exist between the H&M code and the code proposed by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC):
1. H&M's code of conduct mentions that suppliers should always follow national laws of producing countries, while CCC's code of conduct uses international conventions designed by the ILO and the UN as a basis.
2. The code of conduct of H&M mentions legal minimum wages, while the CCC code demands a living wage, which provides for basic needs.
3. The H&M code states that working time must not exceed the legal limit, while the CCC code is more specific - workers should never be required to work more than 48 hours on a regular basis, and overtime may not exceed 12 hours a week. Furthermore, workers have the right to one free day in a 7-day workweek.
4. Implementation and Monitoring is another difference. How will H&M observe the regulations stated in their Code of Conduct and will there be independent monitoring?

On February 5, 1998, CCC Belgium organised a seminar in Gent.
The aim of this seminar was to share information and to unite members of the CCC. H&M was also invited and their representatives were confronted with a video of a factory producing for H&M with miserable labour conditions. H&M explained that this was an accident, and explained also that they already took some initiatives to improve the situation in this company.

H&M in Romania

The Clean Clothes Campaign/SOMO conducted research on working conditions in Romanian garment factories (March 1998). Among their findings were:

The fashionable long skirt found at an H&M shop in the Netherlands, Germany or Sweden at the price of $23 might have been made at a factory in Romania where the workers receive about $0.9 for making this garment.
H&M has an office in Bucharest which deals with most of the company’s Romanian production. During this research we found five factories producing for H&M one of which mentioned dealing directly with H&M in Sweden, while another dealt directly with H&M in the UK. Two of these five factories are wholly privatised, the other three are still partly owned by the State. In four of the factories the average wage range from 500,000 to 1 million lei per month. One factory pays a much lower wage and the workers interviewed mentioned a lot of problems.

Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh and India

H&M in Indonesia:
Thugs Force Striking Workers Back to Work for Illegal Wages and Forced Overtime

At the PT Kahatex factory in the Bandung region of Indonesia, workers producing H&M clothes report that they work up to 60 hours a week for as little as $1 a day – less than the minimum wage required by law in Indonesia. The law requires workers to be paid the equivalent of 537,500 Rp (Indonesian Rupiah), or $63 per month.
When 537 workers went on strike in May 2003 to ask that they receive the legal minimum, the factory locked them out and hired thugs to intimidate and harass the strikers. On July 10 two workers were arrested and management promised their release from jail only if the strikers accepted management’s conditions. Although the two workers were released in June, the 537 strikers continue to be locked out.
In July, the entire workforce at the factory (2,000 workers in total) went on strike in protest of the company’s illegal wages and forced overtime and in support of their locked-out co-workers.

H&M has sent observers to the factory, but has failed to reinstate the 537 locked-out workers, compensate the workers for the time during which they produced H&M clothes for illegal wages, or protect the workers from management retaliation for exercising their basic rights.
There has been no change in pay rates or treatment.

H&M in Thailand:
Workers Fined More Than 4 days Worth of Wages If They Lose H&M Labels

In Bangkok, workers as young as 16 years old sew H&M clothes until 11pm nearly every night for illegal wages. The legal minimum pay rate is 4000 Bt (Thai bath) or $96 per month. One worker reports that she receives only 1500 Bt, or $36 per month - barely more than $1 per day. If workers lose the H&M labels, they are fined $5.
H&M fails to implement its Code of Conduct that requires that local law be respected. According to worker reports, all three fire escape doors have been kept locked.

(Unite union, US, 2003)

H&M in Bangladesh
H&M is cheap. Suspiciously cheap. Their website quickly explains this does not mean they sacrifice their workers. They say they have a thorough Code of Conduct, and an extremely enlightened policy on child labour.
But are they a model fashion retailer? Transnationale, an NGO collecting information on large companies, reports H&M’s factories in Bangladesh don’t allow trade unions, or give their employees contracts. Nor do they pay the minimum wage - an unbelievably small 8 cents an hour. On top of this they may impose overtime of up to 80 hours a week.

In Europe H&M do not put the country of origin on their clothes because they are not legally bound to do so.

In August 2001, 24 workers died in a factory that makes H&M clothes (among others), in Bangladesh. The building’s two emergency exits were locked when a fire began, trapping workers inside. A panicked rush for the exits led to people crushed to death trying to escape through the unlit, too small exits. H&M have since made safety improvements, paid for hospital bills and provided counsellors for their workers. They have also liased with the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) to find ways to ensure the protection of their labourers in a building where their clothes are produced only on one floor.

There are contradictions, but H&M's work with the CCC does imply they are trying to improve their working practices. Their comprehensive Code of Conduct explains while they do not tolerate children working in their factories, if they find any, they financially compensate their families for their loss of earnings after the kids are removed. This makes sure the children won’t be forced into worse forms of work. They back this up in Bangladesh with a training scheme for young people to give them alternatives to full-time employment, set up with the ILO. Indeed H&M have a bewildering array of campaigns. They sell bikinis to raise awareness and money for Water Aid, donate un-sellable clothes to charity and give money to Terres de Hommes, a charity working for children's rights and development.

(From Ethical Matters)

H&M in India
In 1992 H&M opened its office in Delhi. Since then the company has only set up one more branch office in Bangalore. The company explains, “Around half of our orders are placed in Europe and the rest are primarily in Asia. India is a strong market. 10 per cent of our demand is met from the Indian market, counting around 40-45 million pieces per year”.
As far as the supply chain is concerned, H&M sources primarily from Delhi, Bangalore, Ludhiana and is now looking at regions down south like Chennai.

The company has 60 suppliers in the Indian market but does not own factories and stores in Indian market. “This is not in H&M's policy. We try to build up trust between H&M and our suppliers so we together can build up a long-term business. We are also implementing different education programs for them. We can see a lack for strong and well-educated middleman management at our suppliers end. Also the whole set up is not efficient enough”.
He adds, “We did implement a code of conduct for them 6 years back, and still some suppliers have problems to work in compliance with our requests. But most suppliers are very flexible and like to grow with us, so we look forward to stay and grow in India”.

Cambodia: 20,000 workers strike for higher minimum wage
(Local TU report, June 2000)
Workers from up to 69 different garment factories [including workers producing for H&M] went on strike from June 21 to 27 in order to demand a rise in the minimum wage from US $40 to US $70 per month. The current $40 minimum was set by an agreement between employers and government in January 1997.

Madagascar and Mauritius

From a CCC/ITGLWF report, ‘The suffering zone’, based on research into the garment industry in Madagascar by SOMO, in September 2001:

A factory produces hand knitted pullovers for H&M:
* The buying company pays US $ 3 or $4.
* The retailer pays US $ 10.
* The pullover is sold to the customer for US $ 40.

… Basic health and safety conditions are not respected. Almost nowhere does management provide protective gear like dust masks and for the fabric cutters gloves, nor is there clothing for other workers exposed to high-risk conditions, for example boots for those that work in the washing department. In one of the factories we visited, which was working on subcontracted orders for H&M, La Redoute, Lerner Decathlon, and Pierre Cardin, we saw workers starching garments without any protection right under a warning poster that cautioned them to use protection when operating these machines. Few factories have adequate ventilation system and most factories are very hot.

And in Mauritius SOMO found:

In 2000, there were 518 enterprises in the Export Processing Zone sector in Mauritius, out of which 251 (48%), were involved in garment manufacture…
The minimum wage is between 1600 and 1800 rupees (US $ 53-60) per month. Most workers interviewed earn above the minimum wage, using overtime and bonuses to boost their pay packets to between 2000 and 5000 rupee (US $ 67-167) per month.
Workers in the EPZ work 45 hours (normal working week) with 10 hours of compulsory overtime.

H&M: union-busting in the US

1. H&M Calls the Police on Immigrant Workers Demanding a Union

In the U.S. distribution centre for H&M, 200 Latino immigrants work full-time hours for part-time benefits, forcing many workers to rely on public assistance to maintain health care coverage for their families. When workers demanded a union, the company called the police to intimidate workers leafleting at the plant gates.

H&M Distribution Centre Worker Talks About Facing Harassment and Discrimination at Her Workplace: Francisca Nuñez’s story is of harassment and abuse by management, a story that H&M does not want consumers to hear.
Ms. Nuñez, a Bronx, NY resident and a native of the Dominican Republic, began working in an H&M distribution centre in Secaucus, NJ in February of 2000, one-month after it opened. A single mother with a young child, she considered herself lucky in many ways: She had gotten a good job through a family contact, and was able to secure a position as a data entry clerk. But Ms. Nuñez soon noticed a pattern of harassment and worker safety violations at her plant.

"[The management] was treating us like dogs," said Francisca Nuñez.

Things worsened for Nuñez personally when, after two years of employment at the distribution centre, she informed management that she was pregnant. She soon developed complications because of her diabetes, and had to take time off work for doctors' visits.

"Every time I missed work I had notes from my doctor, but my manager told me that I had taken too many sick days and wanted me to take family leave," said Ms. Nuñez. "I could not take family leave, because I would not have been paid. Who was going to support my children?"

2. Hundreds of H&M workers and activists crash H&M Chicago store opening
12 September 03

CHICAGO – Hundreds of protesters and H&M workers rallied outside the opening of H&M’s Midwest flagship store today, exposing the Swedish clothing retailer’s global record of worker harassment and sweatshop abuses. Led by UNITE, North America’s largest clothing production and retail union, protesters demanded that H&M adhere to its publicly-stated principles of corporate responsibility and end its harassment of Latina immigrants at H&M’s New Jersey distribution centre and sweatshop abuses of workers sewing H&M clothes in Southeast Asia.

“H&M has mistreated workers from New Jersey to Indonesia,” stated Bruce Raynor, President of UNITE. “We will fight as long and as hard as it takes to win justice on the job for H&M workers.”

Today’s event kicked off a season of protest against the rapidly expanding retailer. Several workers from H&M’s distribution centre in New Jersey attended, describing the widespread workplace injuries and harassment they face. Two hundred mostly Latino immigrants from Central and South America work at the distribution centre. As the company expands with 12 to 15 new stores each year, the workers face exceedingly higher production levels and unsafe working conditions, causing regular workplace injuries. “Within the past year, I’ve been seriously injured three times,” said Deyanire Bautista, an employee at the distribution centre. “I’ve had boxes weighing 50 pounds topple off of shelves onto me, but management just tells me to keep working.”

Wages at the distribution centre are below the federal poverty threshold and workers are unable to afford the company’s family health care co-pay, forcing some workers to rely on taxpayer-funded public assistance.

Despite H&M’s public pronouncements in favour of the freedom to join unions, when workers in New Jersey fought back and began organizing a union in July, H&M opposed the union and launched an anti-union campaign, distilling fear and calling the police on workers leafleting. Workers at H&M’s New York City stores have also joined the efforts to form a union.
“We demand that companies that locate to Chicago respect the rights and values of the workers and the communities in which they live,” said Lynn Talbott, International Vice President of UNITE and Manager, Chicago & Central States Joint Board. “We will not allow H&M to continue to expand without consumers knowing about the abuse and harassment faced by the workers who make each new store opening possible.”

H&M sells $5.3 billion worth of "cheap and chic" clothing every year at approximately 900 stores around the world. The company is expanding to the U.S. where it currently has 59 stores.


3. Sweeney slams H&M
AFL-CIO [US trade union federation] President John Sweeney Says US Labour Movement United in Confrontation with Swedish-Owned H&M
- Unions Mobilising Thousands in Demonstrations to Protect Workers At /PR Newswire/NEW YORK

The AFL-CIO today committed the support of its 64 affiliated unions and more than 40 million people living in union households in the United States to the escalating campaign to win union rights for workers at H&M, the giant US$5.3 billion Swedish retailer of "Cheap-Chic" fashion currently opening stores in major US markets.
The mass mobilisation comes in response to H&M’s ongoing opposition to its employees’ efforts to join UNITE, North America’s largest clothing industry union. H&M employees at US distribution centres and stores started organising a union in July and August, to which H&M has responded with harsh anti-union tactics, threats, and violations of US labour law, and the recent termination and lay-offs of union supporters.

In a letter to Stefan Persson, Chairman of H & M Hennes & Mauritz, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, "We are doing so because H&M -- which we understand is a company with quite good relations with unions in your home country of Sweden -- has been distributing anti-union materials to employees in our country and has taken other actions to dissuade them from organising. We also understand that H & M has refused to agree to the pillars of a fair process for unionisation: employer neutrality, the right of workers to talk to union representatives at their work sites, and recognition of the union upon presentation of authorisation cards from a majority of the workers."
Four of the labour movement’s most activist labour unions have already joined UNITE at protests across the country -- the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE), the Labourers International Union of North America (LIUNA), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UCB). Within the past two weeks, 3,000 labour activists from all five unions, community activists and students have lawfully picketed and hand-billed at H&M flagship stores in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. to let the public know that H&M is non-union and about its anti-worker conduct. Thousands of H&M customers have signed petitions and pledged their support to the workers who ship and sell H&M clothes in their effort to win better treatment and fair wages at work.

"H&M must understand that when they attack one worker in the US, they attack the entire US labour movement," states Bruce Raynor, President of UNITE. "We will fight together, we will fight hard, and we will fight for as long as it takes to make sure that each H&M employee is able to exercise the right to freely join a union."
The unions’ protests follow recent findings from a Regional Office of the US National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) that H&M has violated US labour law. The Regional Director found "reasonable cause to believe" UNITE’s charges that H&M illegally violated its employees’ ability to organise a union by prohibiting communication among employees about their wages and other conditions of employment, and by prohibiting employees from soliciting support for the union.

Prominent politicians have pledged their support to the H&M employees’ effort to form a union. Thirty-four New York City Council representatives have denounced H&M’s anti-union tactics, writing to H&M CEO Rolf Eriksen, stating "Your actions create an atmosphere that makes it impossible for workers to consider, free from employer pressure, whether to form a union."
US Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, representing the State of New York, have also pledged support to the campaign, urging H&M CEO Rolf Eriksen, "to agree to a reasonable and expeditious process through which employee sentiment about unionisation can be determined. We believe that a card check agreement between UNITE and H&M is an effective option for establishing clear ground rules through which employees may form a union."

H&M sells US$5.3 billion worth of "cheap and chic" clothing every year at approximately 900 stores around the world. The company is expanding in the US, where it currently operates more than 60 stores.

4. H&M victimises union activist
November 12, 2003 (from Unite)

Kevin Sanders, a 28-year-old H&M sales associate, from the 51st & 5th Avenue store, and active union supporter, was suspended after prominently and vocally participating in an action to get H&M to respect workers' right to organize a union.
On October 24th, Kevin joined fellow H&M workers on stage at a boisterous rally at H&M’s new store in Soho, New York. The following Tuesday, Kevin used his personal time to distribute and post union leaflets, leaflets with photos of him at the rally. The following week, Kevin was called into his manager’s office and without explanation suspended without pay until further notice. The recent retaliation against Kevin Sanders highlights H&M management’s practice of retaliating, harassing, and intimidating union supporters.
Kevin stated, "This is exactly why we need a union at H&M. Management can take any disciplinary action against us and we don’t have any way to defend ourselves. We want a union to make H&M a better place to work, where workers receive respect and fair treatment." He went on to say, "But when we try to exercise our civil rights, this is what happens -- management retaliates."
When the unionization effort in the H&M stores began in August, Kevin immediately became a union supporter, taking a leadership role in talking to and organizing his fellow co-workers and distributing educational union information. Kevin's manager confronted him and interrogated him on his union activism. The manager ended the conversation by stating to Kevin that no union was needed at H&M. Yet, in early October, Kevin continued with his union activism, joining co-workers from across the city in signing a letter to the top management of H&M in Sweden. In addition, Kevin volunteered to put his home address as the return address to receive management’s response to their demand for respect.
However, Kevin's perseverance for a union at his store has not been without a price. Since the beginning of his union activity and following his growing leadership in the union drive, H&M management has been cracking down on him. He began to be written up for minor errors, and now, he has been suspended. Is the punishment warranted or is he being targeted for his union activities? The evidence seems too coincidental. These actions against Kevin are incongruous to H&M’s announcements to the press that the company follows the same labor practices in the United States as they do in Sweden. Instead, the antithesis seems to be true. In Sweden all H&M employees are protected by union contracts and have access to union representatives in their workplace. However, NOT A SINGLE H&M employee in the U.S. has union protection, rather they are "at will" employees, meaning that they can be arbitrarily fired without warning and without explanation.