H&M have done some things recently, some questionable things, and if you're not well into the sustainable fashion world (or just in a slightly different part of it) you probably wouldn't have heard about their behaviour. It basically involved them claiming they were the "most transparent brand in the world" after fashion revolution released their transparency index which they are not, not at all. So in this post I am going to talk through exactly what happened and why they're definitely not the most transparent brand in the world.

For a bit of background, H&M are one of the biggest fashion brands on the planet, in the financial year 2018/29 they sold over 2.2 billion units of clothing beaten only in volume by fellow fashion giant Zara. Their CEO has a net worth of $1.3 Billion and their largest share holder a net worth of $15.2 Billion, it seems that their general business model is make lots of clothes and lots of money.

Back in 2013 the Rana Plaza incident occurred, a garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1200 people and injured more than 2500 more. This caused international outrage and started Fashion Revolution, who now release a yearly transparency index.

H&M was one of the brands who's clothes were made in this factory, meaning there were lots of eyes on them and demands for them to do better. In 2013 they made a pledge to pay all of their 850,000 garment workers a living wage by 2018 (something they failed to achieve) and have been working hard to clean up their act in recent years.
"The Most Transparent Brand in The World"

Back at the end of April, during Fashion Revolution week, the 2020 Fashion Revolution Transparency Index was released, this rates the top 250 brands in the world on their transparency. To put this in context that means brands have to have a minimum annual turnover of $400m to be considered for this index.

Fashion Revolution also emphasise in this report that it is not a shopping guide and should be used as such, and that transparency is not the end goal of their work but a necessary step in making supply chains more sustainable and ethical.

H&M topped this list, scoring 73%, but didn't seem to heed the advice that fashion revolution put forward. On the day of its release they put out a tweet and instagram post claiming they were the "most transparent brand in the world" and also suggesting that this somehow made them sustainable too.

This was an outright lie, sure H&M were top of Fashion Revolution's Transparency Index. which rates the biggest brands in the world. But these are also some of the biggest polluters and those that continue to ignore human rights violations in the fashion industry too. They essentially won "best of the worst" which is entirely different to best in the world.

What the transparency index didn't measure is all of the smaller sustainable and ethical brands in the industry who work incredibly hard to ensure that the people in their supply chain are treated right, and that their clothes are made in a planet friendly way. Some of these brands can tell you who farmed the raw materials that go into their clothes, how much they earn, who each person is in the process of putting that garment together, exactly how it's dyed, and even maybe the favourite colour of the seamstress who made the final stitches. This level of transparency, and more importantly ethics, is worlds ahead of what H&M are currently achieving.

Many people called them out for this lie, including Fashion Revolution, and they quickly deleted the post. But it was too late, partly because screenshots exist and their 35million instagram followers have memories, but also because there were already countless articles calling them the "most transparent brand in the world" and plenty of consumers believing it too. The damage was done.

Do you know what the Fashion Transparency Index by @fash_rev is? To put it simply, it’s an annual report reviewing and ranking how openly fashion brands share information about who made your clothes and how. It creates awareness on important issues for the whole textile industry, such as transparency, good working conditions in the supply chain and the need for shifting towards a circular economy. Transparency is an important tool in the process of making the fashion industry more sustainable: if companies like ours say that we take care of both people and planet, we need to be able to prove it. Last week, we found out we’re the highest-scoring brand in the 2020 Fashion Transparency Index. We’ve worked with transparency for a long time, so seeing the result of it got us really excited. Actually, a bit too excited… We wanted to share the good news with you all, so we created a post in social media, saying we’re now the most transparent brand in the world. Now that was taking it a bit too far, as @fash_rev quickly pointed out to us. And they ‘re absolutely right. Here’s what the report concludes: We’re the highest-scoring brand among the 250 biggest global fashion and apparel brands and retailers reviewed in the Transparency Index. Does that mean that we’re the best in the world? No, it means that we disclose more information about our social and environmental policies, practices and impacts than the other big fashion brands and retailers in the report. We think that’s a good start. But more important than to tell, is to do. As a major player in the fashion industry, we have a great responsibility. We want to use our size to lead the change in making the fashion industry circular and sustainable. Transparency is one of the corner stones in our ambitions, but it’s not the only one. We’re on a journey. On our website you can read more about what we’re doing and what we’ve done so far. Let’s change fashion. Together.
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A non-apology
H&M didn't leave it there though, about 5 days later they came back to instagram with an "apology", which was definitely not an actual apology.

Essentially they said "oops we got excited, we're great but looks like we made a little mistake here". They basically tried to make themselves out to be one person who made a small error of judgement rather than a huge corporation making a very calculate and thought out piece of marketing.

They would have had a team of people who put together the first instagram post, and the same for this "apology", I don't believe they just made a mistake here, it's painfully obvious they're far from the transparent brand in the world and I don't think they're stupid enough to believe that's true. They showed no accountability in this post, and were basically just trying to get people to feel for them and look at all the good things they're doing so far towards transparency and sustainability.

I also want to point out here that H&M scored full marks on the first two sections on the Transparency index, which are about policy and accountability, many brands scored full marks here because it's mainly about having a framework in place and some kind of policy saying what you're committed to doing, with goal setting and feedback, as well as appointing people in your company to be responsible for certain issues.

The sections they did not fair so well in were "Know, Show, & Fix" and "Spotlight Issues" which are about how they deal with issues within their supply chains, how workers can report issues, and how they're addressing issues like gender equality, forced labour, gender equality, waste etc. etc. which again kind of says they're not very good at admitting their wrong doings and issues and fixing those.

True transparency isn't just shouting about the things you're great at, and skirting around taking accountability for your actions, it's fully admitting what issues you have, in detail, and working on those.

The sustainable fashion community wasn't satisfied with H&M's "apology" and so went onto their instagram post to tell them this. Aja suggested that to be more sustainable they simply think about making less clothes and started #HaveYouTriedMakingLessClothes, with lots of other people also asking H&M where their real apology was and if they had in fact just considered making less clothes as a simple way to be more sustainable

Unsurprisingly H&M didn't respond to any of these comments on their photos, despite responding to all other customer issues on their instagram post and have since have carried on as normal, acting like this is the end of it.Very transparent.

My suggestion to you H&M is to listen to people who are calling you out, we're not doing this for the fun of it, we're doing it because we want to see a change in the fashion industry. Something which you also claim you do. If you actually want to see, and be, the change in the fashion industry then do better than this.

H&M claimed they were the world's most sustainable brand (and therefore amazing) after scoring highest Fashion Revolution's transparency index which rates the 250 highest grossing brands (so the best of the worst). This was an outright lie, they got called out, and deleted this post. Five days later they came back with an "oops made a little mistake, we're still great though!" as if it was one person who got a bit excited rather than a corporation who carefully calculated each social media post. They've now been called out for that and asked "Have you considered making less stuff?" but have more or less ignored the people asking these questions, very transparent.

And that about wraps the situation up, for now at least. H&M sure are doing better than a lot of the big brands out there but they have an awful long way to go to be a truly ethical and sustainable company. f you want a whole timeline of a load of awful stuff H&M have done over the part ten years I highly recommend Melissa Watt's post on this, very detailed.

If you're someone who has been pulled in by H&M's clever marketing and cheap clothing I hope this post has shed some light on the situation and you consider how much you want to support them in future. If you want to take some action you can also write, email, tweet at, dm them and ask them who is making their clothes, if they've considered making less stuff, and demand better from them. The more people that hold them accountable, the more incentive they have to change.

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