H&M The ultimate in Greenwashing?

H&M is one of the biggest fashion brands in the world. Their cheap prices and mainstream designs make them accessible and pleasing to most consumers. Unlike many other similar brands they position themselves as a sustainable brand, which is demonstrated on their website where ‘Sustainability’ is one of the main tabs.

But is H&M actually a sustainable brand? And what about all of it’s other brands too, I often see their brand ‘Monki’ being called ethical. As well as new brand ‘Arket’.  Some say that H&M (and all it’s other brands) are the ultimate in greenwashing and far from sustainable, but I thought I’d take a look into it myself.

So I started this investigation where I start all of my investigations into fashion brands, on the trusty app ‘Good on You.’All the H&M brands scored a very average ‘It’s a start’. They’ve made an effort. They haven’t made the best effort, but they have done something. They have a conscious collection which is made of sustainable materials such as recycled fabrics and organic cotton. This is good, but my question is, if they really care about sustainability as they claim too, why aren’t all of their clothes made in the same way the conscious collection is? By having it as a separate collection, they’re pretty much admitting that the majority of their clothing is unsustainable. It has some sustainability targets such as ‘use 100% renewable energy for their purchased electricity by 2035’ but that’s 16 years away. I would expect a brand that prioritises sustainability to be setting nearer deadlines. H&M doesn’t have the greatest track record for meeting targets, so maybe that’s why they gave themselves such a long time…

They had originally aimed to pay their garment workers a fair living wage by 2018. They have missed this goal pretty substantially. H&M pay somewhere between 1% and 25% of their supply chain a living wage, so they are way off the mark. It also doesn’t particularly help that they won’t even give an exact number for what a living wage is. They are making an effort to input initiatives into making sure workers get a living wage, but it’s really slow progress. In my opinion there’s absolutely no excuse for this, workers deserve to be paid enough to live.

I think it’s fair to say that H&M are capitalising on the trend of caring for people and the environment. They make efforts, but its half-hearted, they’re not doing as much as they could be. With the scale at which H&M is producing new pieces that are only in fashion for a short moment, it’s hard to call them sustainable. The creation of clothes is extremely resource intensive, even if you’re using sustainable materials (which H&M mostly aren’t).

It’s maybe easy to question H&M’s true sustainability status, considering they are such a huge brand. However, the other H&M brands aren’t so easy to identify. I recently read a post on the great blog ‘Curiously Conscious’ about H&M’s new-ish brand ‘Arket’ and how despite very much putting across a sustainable and ethical image, they really aren’t. The same can be said for brand ‘Monki’ who seem to have made their way onto a few ethical brands lists across the internet, despite having very mediocre ethical and sustainability initiatives. H&M apply the same ethical and sustainability initiatives across all their brands, however you find differing information of each of their websites. For example ‘Arket’ has a tab on their homepage all about their suppliers, but when checking out the website of ‘COS’ I couldn’t find anything even remotely related to ethics or sustainability. This only strengthens the case for H&M being greenwashers. They pull out the info about ethics and sustainability only when they will think it’ll help sell clothes. If they think their buyers aren’t interested, they don’t bother adding it to their website.

I don’t think H&M are the worst, but they aren’t what they make themselves out to be. They put in some effort, but not enough. It’s simply not good enough that the workers of the second largest fashion brand in the world are not getting a living wage. It’s great that they have a recycling programme, but by offering a £5 voucher when you donate, they are encouraging you to buy more throwaway fashion. They spend millions on advertising and promoting the idea that we must consume more and more, this is not sustainable. They prioritise profit over both ethics and sustainability, and merely use these things as a way of selling more clothes and attempting to pose as leaders in ethical and sustainable fashion, they are not.

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