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 have a responsibility to ensure 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.
In our production supply chain, the factories which make our products employ around 1.56 million workers, of which 62% are women. They are spread across the globe 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 responsibilities 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, and 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
In our supply chain we focus our efforts on four areas to have the biggest 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. And 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 is a widespread human rights violation that happens in all industries around the globe.
H&M Group welcomes any measures that offer greater protection of workers like the International Labor Organization’s Convention 190 and Recommendation 206, which recognise the right of everyone to a work environment that is 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 in turn can support our own 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 support factories to set up and run health and safety committees. We also help factories to strengthen grievance systems so more women feel comfortable to report workplace issues, for example, sexual harassment. Alongside these initiatives, many factories we work with are enrolled on training courses and external collaborations to raise awareness of, and prevent, sexual harassment and other gender related issues.
- Example: Wealth project in Indonesia
In Indonesia, we are part of a collaboration working with women to help them realise their rights around health, wellbeing and safety. Working with the Ministry of Health, United Nations Population Fund, US International Aid Jalin project and the International Labour Organisation we deliver training on health and safety, reproductive health, malnutrition and gender-based violence.
By the end of 2020, we had trained 118 peer educators who, in turn, had trained 5,000 out of the 16,000 workers at the six factories enrolled in the scheme. The project has several positive impacts. The women have better health awareness and feel more comfortable discussing reproductive health, more women visit on-site clinics, and one factory provides access to midwives, supporting maternal health.
During 2021, we want to enrol eight more factories in the programme and design a new module based around women leadership.
We want women to have equal participation, voice and leadership in social dialogue, including all worker representation forums.
When women gain a place in forums that discuss workplace concerns, everybody benefits. Gender issues are more likely to be put forward and it builds a foundation for good working conditions. We work with suppliers, peers and unions to support worker representation and to provide training on the democratic election of representatives. Industrial relation and workplace dialogue programmes like these reach over 1.1 million workers in our supply chain and 59% of workplace representatives are women.
- 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 2021 we will continue to push for greater participation by women in social dialogue and the democratic election of worker representatives. We will also be scaling up our collaboration with BFC to find new ways to empower women.
Career and Development
We want the number of women in leadership positions to reflect the proportion of women on staff.
However, at factories manufacturing goods for the H&M Group just 24% of supervisors are women, while 66% of the workforce in our supply chain are women. This shows we still have work to do. 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 give them the skills and confidence they need to get ahead, as well as addressing limiting factors like societal norms. Alongside this, we incentivize suppliers to promote more women and work with factories to introduce wage management systems that ensure all workers are paid fairly.
- Example: Gender Equality and Return (GEAR) project in Bangladesh
In 2019, we initiated a career development programme 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 13 supplier factories enrolled and women at these factories follow a tailored training programme designed to empower them and boost their confidence, as well as give them the work skills needed to be a supervisor. Participants say the program helped them both at work and at home. While both participants and factory management say the soft skills gained through the training were key to creating positive change. In one of the participating factories, most of the women taking part were promoted to supervisors in 2020.
In 2021, the plan is to extend the programme to new factories and to empower more women to progress in their career.
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 industries 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. One way we are doing this is by helping factories to bring in fair wage management systems. These systems move away from paying everybody a flat rate to paying people according to skill level of their role, regardless of their gender. 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.
- 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 like Myanmar and Cambodia, but 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, feel safer because they no longer have to carry around large amounts of cash and become a part the modern financial system. At the end of 2020, over 90% of our direct supplier factories in Bangladesh and 82% globally offered digital payments.
During 2021, we will continue to work with factories to implement digital payments, focusing on countries where the shift to digital payments has been slow or needs to be scaled up, for example Cambodia, Myanmar and Bangladesh.