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STOCKHOLM – Swedish fast fashion brand H&M has called for strengthened industrial relations in Bangladesh amid growing concerns over the decision by supplier factories to fire thousands of workers. “The garment workers’ frustrations clearly highlight the need for strengthened industrial relations in the country,” said a statement from the business. “When workers are listened to, when the parties in the labour market can engage in peaceful dispute resolution, and when the minimum wage level is revised regularly, that is when situations such as this one can be resolved long-term.”

The brand also implied that some workers might have gone beyond conventional protesting and factory picketing and committed acts of violence during recent strikes. The business added: “However, even though we understand and fully sympathise with the garment workers’ frustrations, we cannot encourage vandalism and violence as a means to an end. We strongly encourage peaceful conflict resolution for all parties in all situations and see ourselves as an enabler to make that happen. We support increased wages for garment workers as well as the guidelines of the ILO and global unions, which emphasise collective bargaining as necessary for workers and employers to negotiate wages and working conditions.”

H&M said it is also in close dialogue with the global Union IndustriALL and the National Monitoring Committees working to contribute to peaceful conflict resolution. A settlement (a MoU) has been signed by factory management, associated trade unions (including IndustriALL), and worker representatives. H&M added: “We understand garment workers have recently been dismissed from three factories that produce for H&M group amongst others, and we are closely observing the situation to ensure that the documents and agreements that have now been signed are acknowledged and approved by all parties, outlining valid information and appropriate grounds for termination of employment.”

Comment: We agree wholeheartedly that all garment sourcing hubs and not just Bangladesh require better and more robust industrial relations, and clearly recognised collective bargaining processes in place. This benefits all parties. However, H&M’s call for better wages for garment workers is disingenuous. The business, like other brands sourcing from Bangladesh, must surely know that one of the reasons why wages are so low is that supplier factories are continually being squeezed on unit price by brands. Strengthened industrial relations and better unit prices for suppliers are the key to better wages and less industrial unrest.

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