Asia Life

H&M in Asia: Rabbits Out, Living Wages In

The world’s second largest clothing retailer halts Chinese fur production, raises pay in Bangladesh and Cambodia.

J.T. Quigley
H&M in Asia: Rabbits Out, Living Wages In
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Stockholm-based H&M – the second largest clothing retailer in the world – announced two major changes this week with direct ties to the fashion giant’s presence in Asia.

After a graphic video of fur being plucked from live rabbits at a Chinese supplier was released online, H&M announced that it would temporarily stop the production of garments that use angora.

“We are halting production,” H&M spokeswoman Camilla Emilsson Falk told AFP. “We need to check to be sure if the [fur] producers are conforming to our standards.”

The ban on rabbit products comes less than a week after H&M insisted that Chinese suppliers followed the company’s product policy, which states the following:

“For angora hair H&M only accepts products made of angora rabbit hair from farms with good animal husbandry. Plucking is not acceptable.”

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H&M will not be removing current angora products from its retail shelves – a decision that has drawn sharp criticism from animal rights advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) – the group that posted the initial video.

“Angora rabbits may be strapped to a board for shearing and kick powerfully in protest as clippers or scissors inevitably bite into their flesh,” said PETA. “In China, a PETA Asia investigator found workers violently ripping the fur out of rabbits’ skin as the animals screamed in pain, a process they endured every three months for two to five years.”

PETA added that 90 percent of the world’s angora fur comes from China. Plucked hair commands a higher price than hair that is sheared off because it is longer.

In Bangladesh and Cambodia, H&M pledged to pay a “living wage” to garment factory workers following the disaster at Rana Plaza.

“We believe that the wage development in production countries, which is often driven by governments, is taking too long. H&M wants to take further action and encourage the whole industry to follow,” read a statement from the Swedish company.

Two factories in Bangladesh and one in Cambodia will be able to negotiate a salary that allows for a decent standard of living.

Using the Fair Wage Method, a 12-step assessment that varies based on the conditions of an individual country, more than 850,000 of H&M’s textile workers at 750 factories across the globe can expect to see a pay increase by 2018.

The retailer did not provide any actual figures for comparison with current pay rates at Asian textile factories – but did promise that increased wages for factory workers would not be passed on to consumers.

“Wages are only one part of sourcing costs,” said Helena Helmersson, H&M’s head of global sustainability. “We don’t think there will be any impact on prices.”