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May 08, 2020 - Editor: Steph Ramesar

How did H&M end up ranked "world's" most transparent brand?

Yes, you read correctly - Fashion Revolution named H&M Group the most ‘transparent brand’. They topped the chart with a whopping 73%, followed by C&A, Reebok/Adidas, Esprit, and 245 more labels. And not only this; even other reputable organisations such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index have also put H&M on a pedestal. But how is this possible? And why did H&M face again a backlash for publishing this "positive" news?

Rated Blog Length | 7min

Fashion Revolution - Who Made My Clothes?

First of all, let’s make sure that we’re all on the same page - Fashion Revolution is the most popular not-for-profit global movement, tirelessly campaigning for the systemic reform of the fashion industry - focusing on the need for greater transparency across fashion supply chains. It was started in 2013, after a devastating building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which led to the loss of 1134 lives and 2500+ injured. The commercial building collapsed. It was well known that the structural foundations of the building would not hold. So much so that every other business in the building instructed their employees to stay at home - except the garment workers. April marks the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, and every year consumers, fashion bloggers and celebrities alike, all come together to ask their favourite labels ‘Who Made My Clothes? Maybe the picture (above/left) ring a bell? There we go!

Photo Credits | Fashion Revolution

Fashion Transparency Index

Now that we are all on the same page, let’s continue. Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index is published annually. It reviews and ranks 250 of the world’s largest fashion and apparel brands. The index rates the brands based on their social and environmental policies and commitments, climate action, governance, supply chain traceability, how quick they are to take action on social aspects such as gender equality and equal pay for equal work. So what does topping this list mean? According to Fashion Revolution, transparency in this case means: ‘The public disclosure of credible, comprehensive and comparable data and information about the supply chains, business practices and the impacts of these practices on their workers, communities and the environment.’

Photo Credits | Fashion Revolution

100% Misleading At The Glance

However, the issue is exactly here: For many mainstream consumers, transparency within the fashion supply chain means being sustainable and ethical. Moreover, H&M claimed they were the world's most sustainable brand after scoring highest Fashion Revolution's transparency index which rates the 250 highest grossing brands (so the best of the worst). Needless to say, this outright lie led many to throw in their two cents on social media... 

For years now, the Swedish group’s subsidiary H&M has been the ‘face’ of fast fashion. They are renowned for having poor working conditions, not respecting core labour rights of their garment workers, overproducing clothes and not being 100% sure of their supply chains. A quick Google search will show you. Let’s take a closer look….

Photo Credits | H&M

So how Ethical & Sustainable is H&M really?

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, H&M has been praised for paying their suppliers in Bangladesh for all orders fulfilled and in progress. They have, however, cancelled all future orders for the time being due to lack of demand. They have also published their average monthly wages for their garment workers, along with the minimum wages in key production markets for the sake of comparison. H&M’s wages were higher. Furthermore, in 2013 H&M promised that by 2018 they would be paying all their garment workers a fair living wage. We’re now in 2020 and only between 1% to 25% of traced facilities across H&M’s supply chain are paid a living wage. But is meeting the minimum wage the same as paying a living wage?

Photo Credits | H&M

Sources | eco-business.com / goodonyou.com

Though, H&M has made remarkable progress over the years!

H&M has taken lots of positive steps towards reducing their previously negative environmental impact. In fact, all 9 of their Circular and Climate Positive KPIs are increasing. One of them has even surpassed its target - H&M’s Garment Collecting Programme, collected 29,000 tonnes of clothes in 2019, 4,000 tonnes more than its 25,000 tonne target. H&M is also a member of the Better Cotton Initiative and there have been remarkable improvements. Back in 2015, 31.4% of their cotton used was sustainably sourced, now it’s up to 97%. While these are undoubtedly steps in the right direction, let us not forget that the fast-fashion model in itself, leads to overproduction. In 2017, it was reported that H&M burnt 12 tonnes worth of extra clothes. In 2018 H&M had $4.3billion USD worth of unsold clothing. What happened to these?

Photo Credits | H&M

Sources | HMGroup.com / FashionUnited.com / NYTimes.com

Transparency vs. Sustainability

Okay, so compared to other large scale brands, H&M appears to be making major progress and loves telling the public about it. Maintaining such retail prices, implementing and ensuring ethical and sustainable standards, requires a lot of capital, time and trust. Let’s be honest, achieving true sustainability may not be possible for a company as large as H&M. Overall, H&M does not have the best reputation but after examining the current facts, and in spite of some open ended questions are they really that bad? Or are they just particularly good at reporting all the good that they do? Transparency simply means that they have laid all of their cards on the table. It means public disclosure, honesty and openness. Without transparency, a company cannot be considered as ethical or sustainable but being transparent ≠ sustainable or ethical. However, at a quick glance, for many mainstream consumers, this title may be misperceived as Fashion Revolution approving of H&M as a group to shop from. In a way, this tactic can be considered as a type of greenwashing. Though Fashion Revolution has summed it up perfectly by stating: ‘Brands may be disclosing a lot of information about their policies and practices but this doesn’t mean they are acting in a sustainable or ethical manner. We know that the pursuit of endless growth is in itself unsustainable.’

Photo Credits | Sustainable Fashion Matterz

So what can you do?

  • First of all, if you’re suspicious that a brand is greenwashing, just avoid it or make your own research
  • Second, remember that transparency is definitely the first step towards sustainability but it does not mean that a transparent fashion brand is automatically sustainable. Transparency is simply crucial to help create a roadmap towards change and to clearly define the KPIs for improvement. 
  • Third, transparency is also fully admitting what issues you have in detail rather then only shouting about the things you're great at. 
  • Fourth, let’s keep a close eye on H&M! As per McKinsey, most sourcing executives (who together are responsible for a total sourcing value of more than $100 billion) report that responsible and sustainable sourcing is a top priority on their agenda. Thus, while we see the slow end of fast fashion, we believe that a few common fast fashion brands such as H&M may be potential forerunners in the long future when it comes down to the scalability of producing e.g. ethical and sustainable basics in the right quantity. Let us know what your thoughts are about this!
  • The fifth and best suggestion is: Simply follow us! We stock over 50 sustainable labels from around the world and we add new ones weekly!

Photo Credits | Fashion Revolution

About the Editor

Stephie Ramesar

Stephie Ramesar is an Editor and Sustainability Advisor at Urbankissed since 2020. With an MSc Corporate Social Responsibility with Environmental Management, Steph is passionate about businesses playing a positive role in society, sustainable fashion and slow food - amongst other things. She is also Business Development Manager at digital agency, Icodium, working mostly with SMEs, NGOs and sustainable businesses, to empower and communicate their work, key messages and values to the world.


The sustainable criteria form our Slow & Ethical Index and helps Urbankissed to be consistent and transparent in selecting the fashion we showcase and why. Look for these standards on our products and become immersed in the new economy of change.

click here