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Can Clothing be Cheap AND Ethical? H&M Says Yes

Can Clothing be Cheap AND Ethical? According to H&M, the Answer Is YesFollowing months of scrutiny sparked by the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bandgladesh last Spring, H&M recently announced a plan to secure fair living wages for all textile workers employed by factories that manufacture items for the Swedish retailer.

The move didn't come as a surprise: with its eco-friendly Conscious collection, recycling program and various sustainability initiatives, H&M has long promoted itself as a socially responsible corporation. Here's what was surprising: The company's claim that increased wages for factory workers wouldn't drive up retail prices, which currently hover close to dirt cheap. Would it really be possible, critics asked, for the fast fashion brand to continue pricing dresses at $4.95 while paying fair wages to factory workers? 

"How can that be true?" said Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, speaking with a reporter from Mother Jones. "It makes me think that the company is just riding on unsustainable expansion [and] will just continue to sell more and more low-quality clothes to make up for this increased cost."

But in a new report from Reuters which was published today, Helena Helmersson, H&M’s head of sustainability, told the news agency that adopting more ethical manufacturing practices wouldn't jeopordize the mass retailer's low prices. 

“There is a misconception that lower prices in the stores mean bad working conditions or less pay,” said the executive. Reuters notes that according to Helmersson, sustainable practices such as "cutting water use to grow cotton, improving energy efficiency or using fewer chemicals," would all, in the long-term, improve profitability. 

Another thing that will likely help profitability? H&M's nimble brand positioning and PR spin: “‘Made in Bangladesh’ is something that I’m proud of,” Helmersson told Reuters. “Our presence in Bangladesh is coming with so much positive impact if you think about the alternative jobs for women in Bangladesh.”

[H&M Says Fashion Can Be Cheap and Ethical — Reuters]

Image: Getty