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H&M Under Fire Over Cambodian Wages

A Swedish documentary alleges the retailer is not doing enough for workers.

PARIS — Hennes & Mauritz AB is disputing allegations made in a Swedish television documentary broadcast this week claiming the retail giant is not doing enough to ensure that workers producing its garments in Cambodia are paid a fair wage.

The dire conditions faced by garment industry workers worldwide have come under renewed scrutiny after a factory fire in Pakistan last month killed 300 people.

The Swedish program, “Kalla Fakta,” said many factory employees in Cambodia struggle to survive on their salary. The Clean Clothes Campaign, a Netherlands-based alliance of labor unions and nongovernmental organizations, said the minimum wage for garment workers in Cambodia is $61 per month, which represents less than 25 percent of a living wage.

“Low wages come at a high cost. Last year, over 2,400 workers passed out in Cambodian factories due to malnutrition as a direct consequence of low salaries. But H&M, one of Cambodia’s main buyers, continues to refuse to pay a living wage to its workers,” stated Jeroen Merk of the International Clean Clothes Campaign.

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H&M said the documentary contained a number of inaccuracies. “The angle in the program Kalla Fakta is that H&M’s competitors are far ahead of H&M when it comes to implementation of a so-called living wage. It is presented as if H&M does not support the living wage in our Code of Conduct. This is not correct,” it said.

“Our code has the same level of ambition when it comes to the wage issue as other companies’ Codes of Conduct; the legal minimum wage is the basic requirement, and with the ambition that one should be able to live off the salary. It is what you do that makes a difference, and when it comes to these issues we are in forefront,” it added.

“We want a permanent change, negotiated between workers and employers. This should be done by collective agreement that all workers in a country could benefit from,” H&M concluded.

The Clean Clothes Campaign said H&M had held a number of high-profile meetings with Cambodian officials to call for a minimum wage, but added that this was not a sufficient response. It called for H&M to issue a public statement of support for trade union demands that the minimum salary be increased to $131, and to build an action plan for paying this amount with suppliers.

“We support the idea of building a respectful dialogue between the trade unions and the employers in Cambodia, but H&M must also play its part,” stated Athit Kong, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union.

“We call upon our Swedish union friends to make sure H&M is brought to the table to negotiate a real agreement with Cambodian and international unions that will improve the conditions for the Cambodian workers,” he said.