The Clean Clothes Campaign has lost a remarkable vote at the shareholder meeting of apparel chain H&M. The idea was for shareholders to contribute to the payment of living wages for textile workers.
Highlight of the "TurnAroundH&M" campaign
H&M keeps misleading consumers by claiming it is making a lot of progress in creating a living wage for textile workers, says the CCC, who feel the opposite is true: the workers in factories where H&M buys its products receive nowhere near the wages they need to support themselves. In 2013, H&M promised to guarantee acceptable living wages for 850,000 textile workers in Bangladesh and other countries, but according to the Clean Clothes Campaign not much – or rather, nothing – has actually changed.
The organisation therefore launched the "TurnAroundH&M" campaign with a petition signed by nearly 180,000 people, which was handed to H&M's CEO Karl-Johan Persson last Tuesday, just before the general shareholder meeting. "He replied he shared our goals, but intends to reach them through different means, which we find much too slow," campaign leader Anne Bienias has told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.
The climax of the entire campaign was supposed to be a resolution in the general shareholder meeting. In order to gain access to that meeting, the organisation purchased some stock in advance. "H&M is planning to pay 1.6 billion euros in dividends to its shareholders," Bienias continued: "If a majority agrees to refuse the payment and forces management to deposit that money in a fund to increase the textile workers' wages, we will have made history."
Unsurprisingly, the proposition was voted down: it seems only twenty of the nearly 600 shareholders present were in favour. "Honestly, we did not have much hope the proposition would make it," Bienias says. "If only because the founding family still represents a large portion of the stock and there are quite a few financial institutions in H&M's capital. In the end, management is supposed to resolve this issue. As a shareholder, all you can do is put pressure on them."
Still, the Clean Clothes Campaign considers the petition a success. "Actually, our real goal with the shareholders and the management was to appeal to their conscience and send a message to the hundreds of thousands of customers who visit H&M every day. Perhaps we would have gotten our way if we had suggested to deposit something like 5% of the dividend into such a fund, but the message would not have come across as well and it would have looked like that was enough for us."