H&M to end ‘indirect’ relationship with Chinese supplier amid ‘forced labour’ allegations

‘If we discover and verify a case of forced labour at a supplier we work with, we will take immediate action,’ clothing retailer states

Sabrina Barr@fabsab5
Wednesday 16 September 2020 15:38

H&M has said it is ending an “indirect” relationship with a supplier in China in light of allegations of “forced labour” within the supply chain.

Earlier this year, it was reported that the UK government was being urged by lawyers and a human rights group to ban the import of cotton sourced from the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

The 60-page document submitted to HM Revenue and Customs detailed the “overwhelming and credible evidence concerning the scale and gravity of the forced labour regime in Xinjiang”, where Uighur Muslims are being put to work in factories.

In a new statement published by the clothing retailer, it outlined that H&M Group is “deeply concerned” by reports of “forced labour and discrimination of ethnoreligious minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region [XUAR]” in China.

The company said that it “strictly prohibits any type of forced labour” in the supply chain, and in the event of learning that forced labour has occurred within the supply chain, the firm “will take immediate action and, as an ultimate consequence, look to terminate the business relationship”.

H&M emphasised that the company does not work with any factories that are based in Xinjiang, nor are any products made in the region sourced by the retailer.

The firm has also carried out an investigation to check whether any of the factories in China that it works with are “employing workers from XUAR through what is reported on as labour transfer programmes or employment schemes where forced labour is an increased risk”.

In its statement, H&M explained that Xinjiang is the largest region for growing cotton in the country.

In August, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a non-profit organisation that champions sustainability in the cotton production industry, announced that it was suspending activities in Xinjiang.

While H&M had previously sourced cotton from farms in Xinjiang that were connected to the sustainability initiative, it no longer works with suppliers that do so.

In its statement, H&M said that despite claims made in a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, it has “never had a business relationship with a mill owned by the yarn producer Huafu Fashion Co in Anhui province where workers from XUAR have been employed, nor with with their Aksu unit in XUAR”.

“We do, however, have an indirect business relationship with one mill (in Shangyu, Zhejiang province) belonging to Huafu Fashion Co, which supplies some of our suppliers with a specific yarn,” the retailer said.

H&M said that while there has been no evidence of forced labour at the Shangyu mill owned by Huafu Fashion Co, the firm has “decided to, until we get more clarity around allegations of forced labour, phase out our indirect business relationship with Huafu Fashion Co, regardless of unit and province, within the next 12 months”.