A Piece of Work: H&M's Take on Child Labour in Myanmar
The Swedish fashion multinational H&M has the responsibility to make sure that human rights are respected throughout its supply chain. This is set out in the United Nations Guiding Principles, the most comprehensive template on Business and Human Rights to date. A statement from H&M that was recently published in the Guardian is not in line with these principles. This statement was issued in response to the claims that were made in the new book Modeslavar by Tobias Andersson Åkerblom and Moa Kärnstrand. It reads as follows: ‘When 14- to 18-year-olds are working it is therefore not a case of child labour, according to international labour laws. ILO instead stresses the importance of not excluding this age group from work in Myanmar. H&M does of course not tolerate child labour in any form.’ Without wishing to go into the details of the allegations that were made by the two research journalists, this contribution expresses two concerns. First, the claim that the ILO would ‘stress the importance’ that children as young as fourteen can work is not correct. Second, the statement’s suggestion that not working would deprive the child (or his/her family) can be scrutinised. Moreover, the interpretation of ‘exclusion of work’ by H&M is neither straightforward at the inter-country nor at the intra-country level. It is concluded that a major opportunity to live up to the corporate responsibility to respect human rights is missed. The scale of H&M’s activities and relationships means that taking responsibility could effectively change the lives of children in developing countries.