A new book, set to be released in Sweden next week, asserts that the factories in Myanmar under contract with fast-fashion retailer H&M hired employees as young as 14 and had them work 12-hour days. According to The Guardian, Modeslavar ("fashion slaves" in Swedish) authors Moa Kärnstrand and Tobias Andersson Akerblom met with 15-year-old girls who said they were made to work 12-hour days for the lowest minimum wage in the world (about $3 a day). Their hours are in breach of Myanmar's laws, as well as the International Labour Organization, which sets the minimum age at 14 in countries "where the economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed." Sweden-based H&M stands by this law and took action against the factories when it discovered overtime work happening with teens. "When 14- to 18-year-olds are working it is therefore not a case of child labour, according to international labour laws," the company said in a statement to The Guardian. "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."
After conducting a study in Myanmar, which has experienced a recent boom in clothing manufacturing, Oxfam recently reported that garment workers do not earn enough money to cover basic living costs, despite working long hours. 43% of those surveyed said they went into debt to support themselves. "Almost one in four workers reported doing forced overtime and several reported doing unpaid overtime," states the briefing, titled Made in Myanmar. "A number of respondents reported working through lunch breaks and into the night to meet high production targets." Oxfam called on international businesses to take responsibility to ensure that fair wages were paid and to set delivery times that would not require excessive overtime. H&M's statement implies the company is willing to take action.
"It is of utmost importance to us that our products are made under good working conditions and with consideration to safety, health, and the environment," the statement said. "We have therefore taken action regarding two suppliers in Myanmar which have had problems with ID-cards and overtime...any overtime must be in accordance with legislation as well as our own demands, this is particularly important when it comes to the age group 14-18. If a supplier doesn’t live up to our standards or national legislation we — in accordance with our routines — demand that the supplier immediately establishes an action plan, which has been done also in this case. One of the measures concerning the two suppliers in question is improved recruitment routines, which has resulted in improved handling of ID-cards."