H&M’s CEO Karl-Johan Persson is taking a leadership role to champion sustainability in his company and influence change in the wages of foreign supply chain workers. Since 2009, Persson has been the CEO of H&M, a Swedish multinational retail clothing company. He leads the company’s sustainability plan which includes a fair living wage initiative. Under the initiative, H&M’s vision is to ensure that all textile workers are able to live on their wage, including an initial focus on the company’s own strategic suppliers. The goal is to ensure that all suppliers have improved pay structures for fair living wages in place by 2018, affecting around 850,000 textile workers.
For over 30 years, H&M has bought from Bangladeshi suppliers and that region has become one of the company’s most important buying markets. In 2012, Persson met with Bangladesh’s Prime Minister to influence the government to increase the minimum wage in a broader move that would level the retail buying market for other major retailers that do business in the country, including H&M.
(Excerpt from The Guardian interview with Persson in 2014)
Persson on sustainability:
“Of course I hope for H&M to continue to grow and contribute to jobs and development around the world. But to continue growing, we need to consider our planet’s boundaries. I believe that the way fashion is made and consumed will change. I hope that we will be able to produce fashion in a closed-loop, using less of our planet’s resources and reducing waste instead. For the resources that we will still need, we must share them fairly between today and future generations. I also hope that all garment workers around the world will earn a fair living wage, which in turn will contribute to stable production markets and a more mature garment industry.
It has always been our vision that all textile workers should be able to live on their wage. We have been working to promote wage increases and regular wage revisions for garment workers for many years. Now we have taken this to another level and launched our Fair Living Wage roadmap, marking an important contribution towards fair living wages in the textile industry. I hope that this will inspire other companies to follow.”
“As a big player, we need to be a good example and can achieve a lot. But lasting and systemic change cannot be made by one company alone. While working together with others may take more time, it shows greater impact. Political processes, in particular, can be slow and complex, but needed to achieve systemic change and competition on neutral playing fields. We hope that by taking the lead in some key areas, we can speed up processes. One such case is actively engaging with governments to support higher wages for garment workers and freedom of association.
Our planet is facing scarcity issues on many fronts and still too many people live in poverty. Clean water, climate change, textile waste and wages and overtime in supplier factories are some of the key challenges in our industry. We want to use our scale to bring about systemic change to our industry and across our entire value chain. Together with our colleagues, customers, stakeholders, business partners and peers, we have the opportunity to bring about massive change – all the way from improving the livelihood of a cotton farmer, to lowering the impacts from washing and drying our clothes.”
Under Persson’s leadership, sustainability has become a responsibility for the executive and is integrated into all of the functions and countries which are measured against sustainability objectives. Buying, logistics, marketing and other departments have a sustainability goal called “conscious”. According to Persson, “There is no other way to deliver on sustainability: it has to be integrated and part of the DNA”.
Persson is a director of the company’s H&M Conscious Foundation and of the Swedish Good Cause Foundation.
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