Add H&M to apparel manufacturers including Adidas, Nike, and PUMA that are promising to eliminate toxins from their products while they clean up their supply chains. The Swedish cheap couture fashion company announced that it is “greening” its supply chain and will eliminate all harmful chemicals from its products by 2020.
While many observers credit Greenpeace for putting strong pressure on many companies to stop giving a pass to suppliers that had done everything from dumping chemicals into rivers to slashing compounds like NPEs (Nonylphenol ethoxylates) out of their manufacturing processes. In a face-saving move, an H&M spokesperson denied Greenpeace’s activism had any role in the decision. But the point is that H&M is making the move, and if the experience of companies like Walmart is any indication, this step will save the company money.
The announcement comes as H&M continues to expand across the world. Markets from Singapore to Bulgaria have opened new stores or are in the pipeline. And plenty of observers have noted that the surge in cheap and chic fashion will have dire consequences for the planet and for the people who often toil in dodgy factories to produce them. So what will H&M’s shift entail?
This promise will require a huge amount of work on H&M’s part. Like many retailers, the company contracts out its work, and in this retailer’s case, that involves at least 700 factories around the world. Suppliers will provide the first round of data involving their manufacturing processes in late 2012. H&M will reach out to all stakeholders involved, including other apparel manufacturers and retailers, NGOs, regulators, and the chemical industry. Textile mills will be pressed to come up with safer alternatives to chemicals currently in use, and factories will be strong-armed into ceasing to discharge wastewater into local sources of fresh water. All this change comes as H&M has changed its tune the past year, buying more organic clothing while working with other companies to launch a sustainable clothing organization.
Greenpeace has certainly crowed about H&M’s change in sourcing. A Twitter campaign was among the social media tools Greenpeace used pressure the company–and those tweets reached over 635,000 people who followed the 1200 Tweeters that urged H&M to green its supply chain.
Regardless of who deserves the credit, the promise of a greener and hopefully more transparent supply chain is a winner not only for those who buy H&M clothes, but more importantly, the thousands of people who work to make these clothes that end up in stores from San Francisco to Stockholm.