Hanna Hallin is H&M Group’s Global Strategy Lead, Transparency and Stakeholder Engagement. She joined H&M seven years ago after having several different roles at NGOs in Sweden, and later moved with her family to Hong Kong.
H&M Group is a global fashion company with eight different brands, of which H&M is the largest. The company was founded in 1947, employs 177,000 people, and it is still majority owned by the founding family. According to Hanna, this contributes to a culture that is strongly rooted in values and in its purpose. H&M’s goal is to provide fashion and quality at the best price in a sustainable way.
It is often said that in ten years, half of all new jobs will be ones that currently do not exist. Hanna Hallin has one such novel job. GlobeScan’s Asia Pacific Director Wander Meijer spoke with Hanna about transparency at H&M.
What does a Global Strategy Lead, Transparency, actually do?
The Global Strategy Leads within H&M have the task of developing and managing the strategy across all of our functions and brands. Transparency is one of our priorities: how transparency contributes to our customer offer, business development and to reaching our sustainability goals.
Another one is staying on top of business intelligence. This includes the expectations of different stakeholders such as customers, legislators, campaigners, NGOs, and expert organizations. There are many emerging opportunities with tech solutions to publicly rank and rate our industry’s performance.
Our industry has a history of secrecy, as your competitive edge was who you did business with and what you had ordered from them. Ten years ago, we were keeping our supplier list in a safe. Today we see that to be efficient, and to meet our sustainability goals, we need to collaborate with our suppliers to drive change on the ground, and we publicly share how we rank our suppliers on their performance, including sustainability. We want to be a great business partner to our suppliers so that they will not jump ship and leave us for another buyer. So, we need to have responsible purchasing practices, and reward the investments and improvements done with longer commitments and larger orders.
Transparency is about enabling informed choices. It is about colleagues having access to the right information to take the right decisions; business partners to know who they do business with; and for our customers to choose us and our products by being very clear about who we are and what we offer. H&M shares with the customer information about the supplier and the material on every garment. As a consumer, when you have access to that information and you make an informed choice, you can reward sustainable options.
How does transparency fit into H&M’s strategy?
Transparency cuts across our entire business. We started our transparency journey six or seven years ago when we published our supplier list. Disclosing our supplier list publicly strengthens our relationships and gives our suppliers ownership and value. Today’s customers have high expectations of our industry, and we want to prove that an affordable price and high sustainability performance can go hand in hand by being independently compared to our peers. Curious customers struggle to find trusted sustainability information across our industry.
Transparency is a collaborative field cutting across global sustainability, business tech, production and communications, as well as our eight brands. We are business-integrated and have sustainability managers for each brand, in every global function, in our retail markets, and large teams across our sourcing markets. There is no hierarchy, which is part of our culture. This is highly efficient as everyone is empowered to take decisions.
How do you communicate this in different parts of the world?
Our brands emphasize different sustainability messages around the world, as customers’ sustainability concerns differ. In China we disclose more about how we work with quality tests and chemical management and safety. The focus in Europe is on the working conditions in our supply chain. If you look at hm.com and you pick a product, you find a Product Sustainability tab. By clicking on it, you find details on what material was used, the name and address of the factory, and how many people are working there. We also share what you can do if you don’t love your product anymore. Transparency must build on trusted information, and that’s where we really hope that there would be an industry standard, such as the Higg Index, that could be used to compare and benchmark across the industry, not just between products within our own assortment.
Editors note: In 2018, GlobeScan worked with a group of brand, retailer, and manufacturer members from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) to investigate how the apparel, footwear, and textile industry can offer more meaningful transparency to consumers. The research also gave guidance on how to communicate Higg Index information transparently to consumers. The report from this consumer research study in China, Germany, USA and UK can be found here.
Which are the industries you have learned from in terms of transparency, and will you ever reach complete transparency?
The food industry has a lot of applied tech as well as blockchain solutions and different ways of publicly sharing the life and the journey of the product, for example, QR codes where you can meet the farmer.
Transparency is not an end goal – it is more of an attitude. It is a value that is integrated in the way you operate. We need to have that backbone of always looking at what we should be sharing and be transparent about that. If it doesn’t drive the right behaviors or it doesn’t trigger positive change, then there is no point in disclosing everything all the time. It should drive impact on the ground.
Transparency also builds trust. You can’t be loved if you’re not trusted, and today both trust and transparency are lacking in our industry.
What kind of data is most relevant for H&M to disclose?
One of our strategic priorities are fair living wages and workers’ elected representation in a factory. Can we encourage suppliers to disclose this data? The ones that have stepped forward can get recognized and acknowledged. Also, climate impact is an increasing concern that customers want to be able to act on.
It is time for the textile and apparel industry to agree on a global trusted standard for sustainability claims on products. We joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) when it was founded because its mission was to enable transparency and empower customers to make informed choices by 2020, so we wanted to be part of pioneering that. Ten years down the line there is still no available Higg Index transparency for products.
We know we have a strong sustainability offer in our assortment, but it is difficult to share that with the consumer without a comparable trusted industry standard. That is why we had to start our own initiatives in parallel with our engagement for a Higg Index. A lot of work has been spent on ensuring safe working conditions, responsible chemical management, and lowering our carbon footprint. These things are important to the customer, but they wouldn’t know it if it is not disclosed, as one t-shirt looks like another.
What is your big ambition in your role as Strategic Lead in Transparency?
We would like to inspire change across our industry by sharing who we are, how we do business and with whom, and what value the customer gets when they’re shopping with us. We can talk a lot about ourselves and we can always improve, but ultimately, we want to aim for a “North Star” of how a transparent sustainable fashion industry could look.