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H&M criticised after making Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams ‘sustainability ambassador’

The actor and brand have been accused of ‘greenwashing’

Jade Bremner
Wednesday 14 April 2021 07:39
H&M makes Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams ‘sustainability ambassador’

Game of Thrones actor Maisie Williams has received criticism for ‘greenwashing’ after becoming H&M’s global sustainability ambassador.

The actor announced on Instagram that she will join the brand to help front its campaign to use only recycled or other sustainability sourced materials by 2030.

“It’s time to take action and create more viable production circuits in fashion to protect our planet for the next generation,” said Maisie Williams in a statement on her new partnership.

Outlining what her new role would require, the star said: “working closely with experts within H&M to drive sustainability initiatives and shape the path towards an accessible and circular future. The long-term goal is to use 100 per cent recycled or other sustainably sourced materials for textiles across the full H&M Group brands by 2030.”

The appointment of Williams follows H&M’s announcement in December that its foundation will be spending $100 million (£72 million) on green initiatives.

But the Williams partnership has received backlash from sustainability activists and fair fashion campaigners online, with some accusing the brand of greenwashing.

“Bit disappointing. H&M is a massive greenwasher,” wrote sustainable fashion consultant Aja Barber.

“Maisie Williams partnering with H&M has broken my heart a little ... I thought she was more badass than greenwashing,” said one fan under her Twitter post about the campaign.

“It’s not about recycling. Fashion needs to be designed with sustainable materials from the outset – and the fast fashion business model moves too quickly and cheaply,” said another Twitter user.

“We don’t need paid celebrity ‘sustainability ambassadors’,” tweeted another, “we need sustainability experts who actually know what they are talking about. There is a reason said experts are constantly calling H&M out as one of the worst offenders. And a reason why refuse to listen.”

“Honestly, the idea that whizzy recycling solutions will metabolise the billions of garments being needlessly churned out by fast fashion brands every year and let them off the hook so we can all merrily keep on shopping is... what’s science for ‘total horseshit’?” wrote author Lauren Bravo.

H&M hopes to encourage a circular fashion model that reuses and recycles unwanted garments.

The high street fashion brand has been accused of contributing to climate change. It sells an estimated 3 billion garments a year, according to the New York Times, and in 2019 it had an inventory of $4 billion (£2.91 billion) unsold clothes, reported Business of Fashion.

In addition, H&M has come under fire for its wages. The Clean Clothes Campaign claimed the brand had failed to fulfil a pledge to ensure garment workers were paid a fair “living wage”.

“H&M needs to take action immediately to stop the scandal of poverty wages and workers’ rights violations,” said Bettina Musiolek from the Clean Clothes Campaign.

“There is no universally agreed level for living wages, and wage levels should be defined and set by parties on the labour market through fair negotiations between employers and workers representatives, not by Western brands,” an H&M spokeswoman said after the backlash.

As part of the new campaign, Williams will feature in various initiatives – an Avitar Maisie has been created of the star by 3D animators. This life-like digital twin will appear in a launch film. A digital Maisie will also star in H&M Loop Island, which will become part of Nintendo’s game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, in a bid to encourage players to recycle and learn about circularity.

“Our sustainability work has never been about ‘greenwashing’ – this categorically goes against what we stand for,” said H&M in a statement to The Independent. “Sustainability is at the core of everything we do, which is clearly reflected by the appointment of our former Head of Global Sustainability, Helena Helmersson, as our CEO. Globally, we have over 250 people working solely in sustainability roles across all aspects of our business, ensuring that sustainability is always our top priority.

‘Greenwashing’ is broadly defined as the spreading of misinformation by a company to make themselves appear more sustainable - this is the opposite of what we do at H&M. The size and scale of our business operations is often conflated with our sustainability developments, but the truth is that these are two separate matters.

Our aim is to move to a fully circular business model where resources stay in use and nothing goes to waste, meaning that the scale of our production won’t have the environmental impact it has had in the past. It’s important for us to be transparent with our customers about our work towards circularity, which is why we are proud to have Maisie Williams on board as our new sustainability ambassador to inspire and engage our customers and fans in the re-use, re-making and recycling of unwanted garments.”

H&M has more than 5,000 stores in 74 countries, and more than 500 factories worldwide and in 2015 became the second-largest fashion retailer in the world.

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