H&M accused of fast growth but slow factory improvements: I came across this story in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), where the reporter referenced a report from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA). Although the article doesn’t say so, the report is Precarious Work in the H&M Global Value Chain (PDF download here). Interestingly, the AFWA also released a companion called Precarious Work in the Gap Global Value Chain (PDF download here). Both reports are to the ILO, which will have its International Labour Conference in Geneva this June. The SMH report states that AFWA  H&M report is “based on 251 interviews with workers from 17 H&M supplier factories in Cambodia and India, [and] found women were being routinely fired during their pregnancy”, along with illegal short-term contracts, low wages, forced overtime, and sexual harassment at work. An AFWA representative told the SMH that “H&M has told us they are testing out new practices with pilot factories, but when we asked them for the names of the factories they refused to tell us” (29 May 16).

Beyoncé sweat shop controversy continues: Earlier in May, the UK’s The Sun ran a story with the headline “Sweatshop ‘slaves’ earning just 44p an hour making ‘empowering’ Beyoncé clobber” (08 May 16). The story focused on conditions at MAS Holdings, a Sri Lankan manufacturer. The story has continued to garner interest, as shown by a story this week that took a more analytical look at the issues (26 May 16).  

Selfridges wins award for sustainability communications: The British company has won the Intercontinental Group of Department Stores’ inaugural sustainability award for its innovative approach to sustainability. Although the company focuses heavily on environmental aspects, the award did make note of the Buying Better, Inspiring Change campaign, featuring the Bright New Things Project, where the retailer championed sustainable fashion designers (27 May 2016).

Project JUST releases JUST Approved guide on denim: The JUST team and expert committee have sifted through 111 community submissions and are now moving to a selection process to rate the best brands based on style, ethics and sustainability (see the denim page here). Nominees include: Re/Done, Nudie, Levi’s, Patagonia, Imogene + Willie, G-Star Raw, and Nobody Denim.

ZDHC announced new online portal for chemical companies: The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Programme has announced the development of a new online portal for chemical companies to assess a product’s compliance against ZDHC’s MRSL. The Chemical Registry draws from experience learned during an extensive pilot conducted in 2015 across China, Taiwan, Pakistan, Scotland and Sri Lanka on behalf of the ZDHC Foundation by ADEC Innovations.The portal is due to be released August 2016 (26 May 16).

C&A releases first CSR report: You can view a press release here, a summary (PDF download here), or an online version here.

Brands to work with Canopy for sustainability: EspritTescoSimonsKappAhlNew Look, and Sage Larock have all signed sustainable sourcing policies with CanopyStyle (‘fashion loved by forest’). “Today’s leaders clearly show that sourcing from endangered forests is no longer fashionable,” said Nicole Rycroft, Founder and Executive Director of Canopy (26 May 16).

Fashion industry helps with rubbish problem: The Independent takes a look at what the fashion industry is doing about waste. It mentions Worn Again, SegraSegra, and Parley for the Oceans  (28 May 16).

Can lean manufacturing put an end to sweatshops? Betteridge’s law of headlines states that “any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no”, so make of this story from the Harvard Business Review what you will. It starts: “Over the last thirty years, the lean approach –developed by Japanese automakers – has permeated the manufacturing sector in developed countries, but is much less commonly used in the developing world” (26 May 16).

The Adidas Speedfactory: This story has been getting a lot of airplay. Robots always do. The rise of robot overlords appeals to the shiny future crowd, and has the ‘workers are screwed’ throng up in arms. It’s all more complicated, but tests at a new automated manufacturing facility in Germany have been so successful that Adidas will open a US Speedfactory in 2017, with more to come in Europe after that. What does it all mean for workers in Asia? Will jobs disappear? The short answer for the short term is no, jobs won’t disappear. Yet. But keep in mind that Foxconn (the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer) announced last week that it had culled 60,000 (no, that isn’t a typo) workers with the introduction of robots (21 May 16). See here for Fortune’s take on it, and here for an Adidas press release from last year. They gave us plenty of warning…

Science fiction and fashion: Valentine’s latest short story “La beauté sans vertu” isn’t for the faint hearted, but if you’re a fan of sci-fi, and fashion, you might enjoy it (May 2016). Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Eyeing the supply chain: A round up of what’s happening in supply chains globally.

BSR report on child labour in Myanmar: Titled Child Labor in Myanmar’s Garment Sector: Challenges and Recommendations, the report (PDF download here) says nearly one-quarter of children aged 10 to 17 participate in the workforce. Required reading for anyone interested in Myanmar or child labour (19 May 16).

Three killed in Bangladesh textile factory fire: Three workers were killed on Saturday when a fire started on the ground floor of the seven-storey building, where chemicals were stored. At least seven workers were injured and taken to hospital (21 May 16).

Six killed in Chinese garment factory fire: At least six people were killed and seven others injured in a garment factory fire in Henan province. Preliminary investigations suggest the cause was faulty wiring (21 May 16).

Bangladesh RMG factories begin to turn sustainable: Since 2011, 28 Bangladeshi RMG factories have received certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC) as green buildings. Of those, six obtained LEED platinum, 13 gold, five silver and four certified as green. Moreover, another 118 RMG units have applied for the green certification (29 May 16).

Bangladesh DBL Group invests $100m in Ethiopia: DBL Group is investing $100 million to set up a garment factory in Ethiopia, encouraged by duty benefits for exports from the African nation to US markets. The new factory will employ 3,500 local workers and 150 Bangladeshi managers (27 May 16).

Bangladesh garment workers call for more government assistance: The Samajtantrik Mahila Forum (Socialist Women Forum) and likeminded groups have called on the government to allocate more budget funds for distressed women and garment workers (26 May 16).

Garment workers paid one-fifth of living wage in Bangladesh: See the story above on H&M and the Asia Floor Wage Alliance; this statistic is part of the AFWA’s reports mentioned there. If you click through to the article, note that the estimation was based on purchasing power parity (28 May 16).

Bangladesh apparel workers demand minimum wage at Tk 16,000 (US$203): Twelve groups representing garment workers called for the increase from the current Tk. 5,300 (US$67) (25 May 16).

Cambodian garment factories warn of falling productivity: The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) claims falling productivity levels and rising infrastructure costs could put the country at a disadvantage with its neighbouring competitors. The association said labour productivity in the garment and footwear sector fell 14 per cent between 2011 and 2014 (26 May 16).

(Image, Jorge GuillenCCO).