At H&M Group we believe in a society free from bias. One where everybody has an equal voice and representation. We want to be inclusive across our whole value chain, to treat people fairly and to give everybody access to the same opportunities. And we want to protect workers from discrimination and harassment.
Gender equality in our supply chain
Gender equality is rooted in our company values, social policies and global employee strategy. As an employer, we are responsible for ensuring equal opportunities for all our employees. In our own operations, women make up 76% of our global colleagues and 72% of our leaders. It is encouraging that these numbers reflect each other and although they are well above the average, we still have work to do across our value chain.
We rely on around 1.5 million people, mostly women, to make our products. The factories that employ them are spread around the world, in 40 different countries. Each country has a different culture, societal norms, legal contexts and levels of gender equality. We are committed to achieving equal opportunities and well-being for women in the apparel sector wherever they are in the world.
H&M Group has signed the Women’s Empowerment Principles, which support the advancement of women’s economic empowerment. We are working towards Sustainable Development Goal number 5 (SDG5), which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030.
In recent years, progress has been made, but it’s too slow, and the pandemic has slowed it down even more. According to the Equal Measures Report, in mid-2019, no country in the world was doing enough to make sure we achieve gender equality by 2030. We, along with other brands, trade unions and governments, need to step up to make gender equality happen sooner.
How we work
Our supply chain focuses on four areas to have the most significant impact: health and safety, career and development, wages and representation. We work on three levels to make sure change is lasting: worker empowerment, factory management systems and industry transformation. In 2020, we consulted with Plan International to update and strengthen our gender equality strategy.
Alongside our four focus areas, we know that there are specific challenges related to gender that demand special attention. For example, gender-based violence (GBV) is a widespread human rights violation that happens in all industries around the globe preventing GBV is one of our focus areas.
H&M Group welcomes any measures that offer greater protection of workers like the International Labour Organization’s Convention 190 and Recommendation 206, which recognise the right of everyone to a work environment free from violence and harassment. We believe these are powerful tools for governments to strengthen local laws to prevent gender-based violence and harassment, which can support our efforts to be a fair and equal company.
Our four focus areas
Health & Safety
We want all women to be empowered, healthy and safe in their everyday working life.
This is the very foundation of our gender equality work. We expect factories to set up and run health and safety committees. We also help factories strengthen grievance systems, so more women feel comfortable reporting workplace issues, such as sexual harassment. Alongside these initiatives, many factories we work with are enrolled in training courses and external collaborations to raise awareness of and prevent sexual harassment and other gender-related issues.
Example: Prevention of Sexual Harassment in India
We want to support the supply chain factories we work with to advance gender equality in their workforces. In India, we partnered with Swasti, an international health resource centre, to help factories appropriately address sexual harassment in the workplace. Swasti helped H&M Group develop POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment), a pilot program initiated in Karnataka between 2019 and 2021. The program was implemented in 10 factories and focused on equipping these with the knowledge and resources to manage and mitigate sexual harassment complaints.
The program conducted training, interviews and reviewed existing policies and grievance mechanisms, which helped identify areas for improvement and outline a clear path forward. We then developed more robust policies and systems to prevent and redress sexual harassment and strengthen gender sensitivity across the workforce. We also focused on building the capabilities of Internal Complaint Committees, mid-management and supervisors to promote safe behavioural practices in the workplace. We hope these can be sustained over time through an inclusive and supportive environment.
In addition to Swasti, we work with a broad set of stakeholders to address the complex vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers in Southern India. For example, we are in close dialogue with UN Women India and supporting the intergovernmental organisation IOM in their work to ensure ethical recruitment of women migrants in the garment industry in India.
We want women to have equal participation, voice and leadership in social dialogue, including all worker representation forums.
When women participate in workplace dialogue structures, everybody benefits. Issues important to women are more likely to be put forward, and this builds a foundation for good working conditions. We work with suppliers, peers and trade unions to support worker representation and to provide training on the democratic election of representatives. Industrial relations and workplace dialogue programmes like these reach over 1.1 million workers in our supply chain, and 61% of workplace representatives are women today. We also partner with the IndustriALL Global Union to support trade unions in our supply chain.
Example: Better Work project in Cambodia
To make sure women’s voices are heard they need to be part of worker forums. In Cambodia, we have been running a program with Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) that aims to strengthen women’s leadership skills as worker representatives. So far, seven of our suppliers’ factories in Cambodia have taken part in the program.
In 2022, we will continue to push for greater participation by women in social dialogue and the democratic election of worker representatives together with our partners.
Career and Development
We want the number of women in leadership positions to reflect the proportion of women on staff.
The role of a supervisor in a garment factory is very important. Becoming a supervisor is the first rung on the career ladder in most factories. We also know that research shows that women are treated with more respect in workplaces with more female leaders.
Our goal is that the women worker ratio matches the ratio of women supervisors. However, at factories manufacturing goods for the H&M Group, just 27% of supervisors are women, while 63% of the workforce in our supply chain are women; this shows we still have work to do. Our goal is that the women worker ratio matches the ratio of women supervisors. Since 2020 we have rated our supplier’s overall performance based in part on their performance on this goal.
To give women the same career possibilities as men, we need to identify and tackle the barriers that hold them back. We are training women to provide them with the skills and confidence to get ahead and address limiting factors like societal norms.
Example: Gender Equality and Return (GEAR) project in Bangladesh
In 2019, we initiated a career development program for women in Bangladesh. Working with International Finance Corporation and Better Work, we want to create more career progression opportunities for female workers in our supply chain, enabling them to take supervisor roles.
We have had 27 supplier factories enrolled in the GEAR program. Women at these factories follow a tailored training programme to empower them, develop their leadership skills, and give them the technical skills needed to be a supervisor. Participants say the program helped them both at work and home. While both participants and factory management say the soft skills gained through the training were crucial for creating positive change. In 2021 alone, 156 women workers were trained, contributing to 87 women workers being promoted.
We want men and women to receive equal remuneration for work of equal value.
However, according to UN Women, the gender pay gap stands at 16%, which means women earn 84% of what men earn, no matter which industry they work in. Differences in pay add up and have real, daily negative consequences for women and their families. We are working to improve wages for all workers in our supply chain. We are doing this by helping factories bring in effective wage management systems. These systems empower workers by raising awareness about their wages and developing skills to improve them. It also provides factories with a system that motivates skill development and sets a fair wage structure that isn’t impacted by the gender of a worker. According to research by independent experts, pay increased by 5% for all workers in factories with wage management systems compared to those without. You can find out more about our wages work here.
Throughout 2022, we will continue our work of mapping out and understanding the root causes of the gender pay gap in our supply chain and set a strategy for how we can continuously decrease it.
Example: Digital payments project
We work with the Better Than Cash Alliance to accelerate the shift to digital payments in our production supply chain in several countries, especially in Bangladesh, where the speed of change has been much slower.
The transition to digital payments is having a positive impact on women. They gain greater freedom to manage their own money and become part of the modern financial system. They also feel safer because they don’t have to carry around large amounts of cash. At the end of 2021, 91% of our direct supplier factories in Bangladesh and over 90% globally offered digital payments; this is a massive improvement since we started this work in 2017 when only 40% paid out wages digitally.