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H&M Criticized for Employing 14-Year-Old Workers

According to a new book, 14- to 17-year-old children had been working more than 12 hours a day at two Myanmar factories since 2013.
An H&M store in Lille, France. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images 

An H&M store in Lille, France. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images 

As one of the leaders in the fast-fashion movement, H&M has weathered its fair share of criticism surrounding the ethics (or lack thereof) of its manufacturing practices. According to a new book being published in Sweden, the Swedish mega-retailer worked with clothing factories in Myanmar which employed children as young as 14.

In "Fashion Slaves," written by Moa Kärnstrand and Tobias Andersson Akerblom, the authors spoke with 15-year-old girls who had been working more than 12-hour days at two factories near Yangon, Myanmar's capital: Myanmar Century Liaoyuan Knitted Wear and Myanmar Garment Wedge. These practices were in breach of both Myanmar's laws and the worldwide standards drawn up by the International Labour Organization.

While H&M said it had "taken action" with both factories, it defended the legality of its employment of 14- to 18-year-olds in the following statement provided to The Guardian:

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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.

The Guardian also reached out to several British fast fashion retailers — including Marks & Spencer, New Look and Primark — each of which denied using factories listed in "Fashion Slaves."

With one of the fastest-growing garment industries in the world, Myanmar, formerly Burma, has quickly become the subject of international concern over its poor working conditions. Last August, the nation set its minimum wage to 3,600 kyat ($2.80) for an eight-hour work day, "one of the lowest in the world," in an attempt to gives its factories a competitive advantage over more expensive countries like Vietnam and Cambodia. Meaning, there's a good chance this isn't the last controversy we'll hear about taking place in the country.

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