Response to H&M on “Cheap” and “Ethical” Fashion

H&M Conscious Collection LiesIn response to Helena Helmersson, H&M’s head of sustainability in her conversation with Reuters, H&M says fashion can be cheap and ethical:

Sustainable industry is an oxymoron. I don’t believe there is an ethical approach to consumption- the global industrial complex depends upon the exploitation of oppressed peoples around the world. H&M’s claim to be a “positive impact” and a welcomed “alternative” is unfounded. While the garment industry perhaps offers more reliable employment, these factories bear no semblance to ideal “democratic” workplaces. If H&M truly cares about workers rights, why don’t they address the striking workers demands?

The problem goes beyond the issue of factory standards. The reason that so many seek employment in these factories is they often have no other choice. In Cambodia, between land grabs, displacement by environmental destruction (damming rivers for hydro-electric power), and the serious deficit of accessible education, many are forced to live in the shadows of cities to either toil through factory life or become prostitutes.

While sourcing products from sweatshop factories around Southeast Asia, white models on a tropical backdrop sell H&M's Conscious Collection: fashion for "conscious customers"
White models on a tropical backdrop sell H&M’s Conscious Collection

Consumerism is an insatiable machine fueled by full-throttle resource extraction. Although H&M is the worlds leading organic cotton buyer, organic cotton only amounts to eight percent of H&M’s total cotton use.

“Cutting water use to grow cotton, improving energy efficiency or using fewer chemicals” means genetically modifying crops grown in massive monocultures, and continuing to use “toxic chemicals that environmentalists say can pollute rivers near factories.”
Green-washed products and fair trade deals are empty corporate promises.

H&M Garment Factory in Cambodia - PHOTO BY AP
H&M Garment Factory in Cambodia – PHOTO BY AP

My politics are hard-line anti-capitalist. There is no solution for this system- buying what we think are ‘socially-conscious clothes’ will not stop the ecological crisis we face. Paying the workers higher wages only further indentures their lives to industrial servitude.

Put yourself in the place of a garment worker- would you want to spend your life toiling for 9-plus hours a day with no way to move forward or work on things you actually care about? Their lives are not their own. This is the true cost of cheap fashion.


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