What exactly MAKES the World’s Most Ethical Company??

Recently, Swedish brand H&M was awarded a ‘2014’s Most Ethical Company’ award.  I was surprised to hear this, especially since it came just a short while after yet another factory fire, in which H&M’s name was implicated.  So I decided to go a little further and research what, exactly, has made them the ‘Most Ethical’ Company this year?

If you have read my blog from its conception, you will be aware that one of the reasons I decided to sack off the High Street at the start of the year, was down to my sheer frustration with the inethical way in which High Street shops churn out low-quality clothing; whilst their factory workers are forced to work in dangerous conditions for, quite frankly, pittance.  It has long been an issue of mine and is something I wanted to raise here on Frugally Peachy, particularly with all the ‘hauls’ I often read on other blogs.  It has long grated on me that brands such as Primark can win ‘High Street Retailer of the Year’ awards, yet turn a blind eye to the plight of their Bangladeshi workers who have suffered at the hands of poor health and safety in one of their factories (that we know of).  Which is why I had to question the criteria behind H&M’s latest award because, whilst on the surface it may appear our favourite go to for vibrant print tunics and cute, washable, kids’ clothes is, in fact, ticking all our ethical boxes – the truth really isn’t that simple!

H&M have always stood me in great stead and, whilst I don’t shop there for myself during the Frugally Fabulous Year, it has always been my one stop shop for Daisy’s bits.  Why?  Aside from having really cute collections, I find H&M’s kids’ stuff is wearable and washes up really well.  It is one of the few brands whose clothes have stood the test of time (‘time’ being 3 or 6 months) and have still emerged, wash after wash, looking half decent after Daisy’s constant crawling, scraping and spilling.  Not only that, their cotton quality is organic in many cases and superior to other clothing brands AND everything is reasonably priced.  What’s not to love?  Then you hear about the factory business that has been, unsurprisingly, brushed under the carpet and it comes as a harsh reminder that us lucky folks who dwell in the Western world, really know nothing of HOW our clothes come to be so reasonable without compromising on quality.

H&M’s recent award for being ethically sound, has been awarded courtesy of Ethisphere, a research institute with a focus on ethical best practice and anti-corruption policies; supposedly there to sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of compliance, best practice and ethical verification.  Excellent.  Or so you may think.

When it comes to the Most Ethical award, Ethisphere award in several categories – from Chemicals to Banking, Retail to Food – companies that show best practice against the criteria set by the institute, are awarded for their efforts.  What surprised me at first, was that H&M was right up there in the retail sector…with GAP??

This led me straight to the criteria and scoring section of Ethisphere’s website – I mean, you’d have to be living in a cave not to know the hot water GAP found themselves in over their use of sweatshops.  And it was here, I found the very reason for why this award didn’t ‘sit quite right’ with me – throughout Ethisphere’s criteria, there was absolutely no consideration of the manufacturing process or labour, why not check for yourself here!

The truth, in fact, is that the page contains most of the jargon I’ve had to sit through during my 13 year unintentional retail career; practices, phrases and talks of compliance are sort of shoved on a page without really answering any questions.  I bored myself starting to type up my take on the existing criteria, so I figured you can read it at your leisure, carefully mapped out in nonsense for you!  So I guess, after all that, brands like H&M and GAP are sourcing organic cotton, a process which makes them more ethically viable than their cheaper counterparts.  World’s Most Ethical Companies?  Bullshit, I say.

In my opinion, an ethical company deserving of this award, would be one that could quite confidently map the journey of the clothes you purchase from them, from design process to shop, without the use of David Brent-style business speak to cover up a whole load of ‘necessary’ evils in the modern world.  I feel somewhat deceived at H&M winning this award, thought confident in the quality of their cotton, admittedly!  So why do I care?  Ultimately, this isn’t a post written to judge the shopping habits of anyone else, it just doesn’t sit right with me that we, here in the UK, wouldn’t get out of bed for 7p an hour, neither would we work our fingers to the bone, in dangerous conditions, because we had no choice but to do so – at the risk of losing their livelihood.  So why are we expecting other countries to do it for us?  Simply put, exploitation in the fashion industry exists, even though we can’t directly see or feel it.

It is often argued, in my circle of friends, that ‘everywhere’ uses sweatshops and, if you can’t beat them, then join them.  Taking on this challenge has, so far, proven to be more difficult as the year has gone on.  But news like this has made me even more determined to not hand over my money to companies, that are simply ignoring the plight of sweatshop workers – two wrongs don’t make a right, in my mind.  You can argue that disused Primark and H&M garments line the charity and secondhand shops that I’ve come to rely on during my Frugally Fabulous Year, not to mention the virtual shopping aisles of eBay and you’d be 100% right.  But at least, sacking off the High Street for my own wardrobe, I’m confident that my money isn’t going directly to fund brands that use sweatshops, a thoroughly unethical process in our modern world, in my opinion.

What do you think?  Do you think sweatshops are a problem?  Would you like to see more of this type of post on Frugally Peachy?

Thanks for taking the time to read this – your thoughts and opinions really do mean a lot!


8 thoughts on “What exactly MAKES the World’s Most Ethical Company??

  1. Katherine Hajer

    I totally agree sweatshops are a problem. The argument “everyone uses them” is interesting, because I can think of several examples where that’s just not true. Here in Canada, I know of major department store chains who went to Montreal to get seasons of clothes out when their overseas contractors couldn’t fulfill their orders on time. The Montreal factories use robots/automaton — not helping employment exactly, but not exploiting anyone either.

    Then in the USA, American Apparel is famous for producing everything domestically and not running their business in sweatshop conditions. I recently read that the makers of Square knitting needles moved their production from China back to the USA after they took a factory tour that failed to impress. They took the tour because of ongoing quality issues. They says that changing the manufacturing site and seeing up the new production line was a lot of work, but worth it because they have far fewer low-quality rejects and far better control of manufacturing.

  2. Icy Sedgwick

    At least if you’re buying secondhand from these stores via charity shops then the money is hopefully going to a good cause – potentially even one that might help to combat sweatshops in the first place. I’m trying to buy British where I can – the clothes are more expensive but there’s less of a chance that they were produced by someone being paid a real pittance!

  3. rosemaryofelephants

    I CANNOT believe H&M made World’s Most Ethical Company. That is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard! Not only have I heard about their third-world exploits, but also sweatshops within the UK. I have to admit that I’m not a saint – I can’t afford to shop at American Apparel for all my clothes and leave H&M etc. out of my wardrobe – but the shop definitely does not merit this award. It is sad, and in an ideal world all my clothes would be ethically-sourced from root to tree. In terms of what kind of posts we would like to see more of on your blog, I think that is totally down to you. If you are pulled towards this deeper kind of subject, you should go for it with full force and people that are gripped will go with you. Write about whatever the hell you want. Rosemary x


  4. Naomi

    Wow Emma – great post! Even coming from someone who enjoy a good shop when the occasion takes me, I very seldom shop in primark anymore for the sheer fact that literally racks and racks of the same clothes have been produced to fulfil that particular ‘trend’ quite simply the word ‘clone’ comes to mind. Your post has definitely given me food for thought, for my other store choices in that I frequent ZARA a fair bit , it now makes me want to find out what goes into the labour process of their clothes making, as I shudder at the feeling that someone has been exploited so I am able to wear a nice pair of shoes or item of clothing.
    Naomi x

  5. Deenie

    I think it’s a shame that blog posts like this are quite rare to read, I think it’s really important for people to be aware of how their clothes are really made because the more people know, the more problems can be solved. Buying from charity shops is actually a really good idea, and I’m definitely going to remember to think twice about which shops I go to regularly from now on!

  6. Jill Berry

    What a brilliant piece Em, heartfelt, honest and from someone who genuinely cares about these poor – in more ways than one – people, working their fingers to the bone for next to no money, and for what??? More people should find out what goes on behind the scenes with clothes making, so that they too can have their eyes opened! Keep flying that frugal flag x

  7. Kate Williams

    I do buy a lot at H&M but I’m surprised the award is based more on being organic than working conditions? That’s just wired! My pet hate is what I deem future landfill, promotional tosh on the front of magazines and given away by companies, drives me barmy…

  8. Julie

    I enjoyed this post, and think it totally fits with frugally peachy- it’s about making informed conscious decisions about where you spend your money and what you spend it on, and sourcing clothes that are sweatshop free is definitely a great priority. But I’d love to see great sources for ethical or sustainable products and stores, because even if they are more expensive, it’s worth it- buying less stuff that is better quality and more aligned with my values.


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