On Monday the 16th of January we dumped a pile of fabric waste at the door of the Swedish Embassy in Berlin, to make a point about the event taking place inside: "THE FUTURE OF FASHION - Managing Sustainability Regulations", at which a Public Affairs manager from H&M was a keynote speaker.
In 2023 and 2024, EU regulations are coming into effect tackling the fashion industry, mostly related to waste management.
Currently, and only concerning waste, the fast fashion industry is responsible for:
- 35% of all microplastics in the ocean, which come from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester (1);
- an amount of textiles equivalent to a garbage truck being buried or burned every second (1);
- damage to local environments due to the overflowing amounts of accumulated textile waste, mostly in the Global South, to where waste from the industry is imported mostly from the Global North (the Atacama desert in Chile being the biggest textile landfill site in the world);
- 4.7 kg of clothes being thrown away per person per year, and only 500 g being recycled (in Germany) (2).
Furthermore, there is evidence of forced and child labour in the fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam, among other countries (3).
These concerning facts are only a few among many that reflect a simple truth: the fast fashion industry's business model is incompatible with true sustainability. It is based on overproduction and overconsumption, as well as neocolonial dynamics. Rapid production means that sales and profits supersede human welfare, especially in the Global South, and especially for women (3).
We cannot emphasize enough how the violation of women's rights is interwoven within the fast fashion industry, which we could more appropriately call the fast fashion tyranny. From production to consumption, women are the main victims of this tyranny at all stages of the chain; 80% of the unnecessary, bad quality, and will-be-waste apparel is made by young women between the ages of 18 and 24 years old1, who are forced to work in precarious conditions, mostly in the Global South. These clothes are then sold as part of an industry which targets women as consumers, historically creating fake beauty standards by objectifying women and linking their self-worth to the consumption of "fashionable" products.
We see the fact that H&M is represented at an event addressing sustainability regulations as a huge conflict of interests, reflective of the general tendency of the industry to greenwash, prioritising profit over human rights, women rights and environmental sustainability.
As an example, we note that H&M’s "Conscious" collection, pitched as a clothing line made from more sustainable materials such as organic cotton or recycled polyester, was found to contain a higher share of damaging synthetic materials than its main line (72 per cent compared to 61 per cent) (4).
H&M's efforts are focused on allegedly revolutionary recycling technologies that still don't work, rather than reducing its overproduction and ceasing a business model that requires new lines of clothing to be consumed constantly (5).
We condemn this clear, technoptimistic greenwashing, and demand that H&M, who spend more money on advertisement than on worker wages (6):
- tell the truth about its business model,
- cease textile waste exports,
- ensure a liveable wage for all its workers immediately.
Inviting one of the world's biggest polluters (7) to a conference on the Future of Fashion and Managing Sustainability Regulations is an insult to everyone suffering the devastating consequences of the climate crisis and all generations who will suffer them even more drastically in the future. It can only be compared to inviting the tobacco industry to a health conference, or fossil fuel lobbies being represented in global climate gatherings.
That is why we say: H&M stands for Hypocrisy and Money, because, despite what it likes to advertise, it is clear that it doesn't care about the environment, but it only cares about money. Fast Fashion Kills, because it steps over the human rights of its workers and of the victims of its climate injustice.
Many thanks to fellow XR Berlin rebels for their collaboration!