By  on April 12, 2012

H&M’s 10th global sustainability report touches all the familiar hot-button issues, from organic fibers to workers’ rights.

The report reveals that the Swedish fast-fashion retailer is the biggest certified user of certified organic cotton in the world. H&M in 2011 increased its use of organic cotton by more than 20 percent, and the fiber now represents 7.6 percent of H&M’s total cotton use. H&M is increasing its use of Better Cotton, which is grown in a way that reduces stress on the local environments and improves the livelihoods and welfare of farming communities.

In addition, H&M is using more organic hemp, which grows quickly in any soil, uses less water and doesn’t require pesticides or fertilizers.

H&M is targeting Bangladesh, a key purchasing market and one of the world’s poorest countries, for long-term assistance. Since 2008, 440,000 workers have been taught their rights and 3 million will learn fire safety by 2013. H&M is offering grants to women for higher education and is setting up help lines for women exposed to violence and discrimination.

A pilot mini-MBA program for H&M store managers is teaching them how to improve day-to-day performance in their stores and preparing them for long-term challenges, the report said.

H&M in 2011 joined the Fair Wage Network, which works to bring together fashion brands, garment producers, NGOs, worker representatives and researchers to promote fair wages around the world. To better understand wages in its supply chain, the Fair Labor Association will assess wage structures at 200 H&M suppliers’ factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China and India, representing more than half of total production. Audits have been conducted at 2,024 active supplier factories.

As for recycling used apparel, H&M joined with iCollect in 2011 to pilot a project in 17 Swedish stores where consumers’ used garments were recycled. The company plans to roll the project out to all its Swedish stores and will consider extending it to other countries, according to the report.

In other sustainability areas, H&M is leading efforts with Adidas Group, C&A, Li Ning, Nike and Puma to develop a joint road map for new standards for environmental performance. The company’s goal is to lead the industry toward achieving zero discharges of chemicals by 2020.

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