STOCKHOLM: Fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz said on Tuesday it had agreed with IndustriALL Global Union to jointly train its direct suppliers and their workers in how to improve relations and dialogue between social partners.
The Asian garment industry has been shaken by labour unrest over low wages and poor working conditions, such as pay protests in Cambodia last year in which police shot dead several workers.
H&M, based in Sweden where collective bargaining and talks between employers, employees and unions play a big role in wage-setting, sources mainly in Asian low-cost countries.
H&M sustainability chief Anna Gedda said H&M and the union association would train managements and workers in negotiating wages and working conditions, and promote collective agreements and freedom of association. They would also train the parties in how to solve conflicts, and offer advise and support in solving conflicts, she said.
"We want to achieve functioning labour market relations in these countries, like in Sweden. Workers should be able to negotiate salaries, solve conflicts peacefully and organise themselves in unions," she said.
Gedda said focus would initially be on Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar and Turkey and H&M's around 600 direct suppliers in the four countries would start receive training 2016. "We will demand that suppliers take part in the training," Gedda said. "In case a supplier doesn't want to we'll have to discuss what relation we will have with them in future."
In a separate development, Indian and Bangladeshi unions were on Tuesday due to present demands to Inditex's Zara in Germany, including that the company ensure that workers at suppliers have the right to organise.
Germany's Verdi union, which coordinated the action, said in a statement that 19-hour working days, unsafe factories and low wages were part of "every-day exploitation" in the global textile industry.
"Multinational clothing companies must bear the responsibility for such conditions," Verdi said.
Inditex, which unlike H&M produces part of its clothes itself, was not immediately available for comment.
Seen by many as relatively active on social sustainability work, H&M was an early signatory of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a Western clothing brands and organisations initiative launched after the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers.
H&M has also been said to do too little. Last month Clean Clothes Campaign and three other groups said it was dramatically behind in correcting dangers at Bangladeshi suppliers. H&M said it didn't recognise itself in the description.