New York City -
H&M stores, which aggressively markets to the gay community and is one of the gay community’s favorite shopping destinations, was criticized for its labor practices by New York states' largest LGBT civil rights group, Empire State Pride Agenda.
In a full-page ad titled “Thinking About Shopping At H&M? Think Again!” in the New York City newspaper, Gay City News, the Pride Agenda highlighted a series of practices, both at home and abroad, that it says it wanted the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to know about during this busy holiday shopping season. Such practices include allegations of subcontracting with sweatshops in Asia to make clothes, employee harassment stemming from unionization efforts at H&M’s New Jersey distribution center and workplace injuries at the same NJ facility.
In the ad, the Pride Agenda points out that unions have been very supportive of NYC gay families in their efforts to get the New York City Council to pass a bill requiring contractors to provide same-sex partner benefits. The civil rights organization asked gay shoppers to show the same support to "H&M employees who are engaged in their own struggle for working conditions that will provide better support for themselves and their families."
Alan Van Capelle, Executive Director of the Pride Agenda, said, “Gay shoppers need to know about H&M’s labor practices and about those who stand with us in our fight for workplace equality. H&M aggressively markets to our community and we are among their most loyal customers. Our voices can make a difference if we let H&M know that decent working conditions, fair levels of compensation and affordable benefits are just as important to H&M’s gay customers as they are to H&M’s employees.”
UNITE, wich represents 250,000 laundry, apparel and distribution workers in North American and is a member union of the AFL-CIO is working to unionize H&M’s workforce has been uncovering and publicizing H&M’s labor practices around the globe. Steven Weingarten, Distribution and Retail Director with UNITE welcomed the Pride Agenda’s efforts to inform the LGBT community about H&M retailers.
"H&M aggressively markets to the LGBT community, and it's great that the LGBT community is using its consumer power to make H&M respect worker rights, “ said Weingarten in response to the Pride Agenda’s education work with the LGBT community on this issue
In recent months the Pride Agenda has been forging alliances with labor, business and religious communities who have similar interests on key issues in an effort to leverage each other’s clout to achieve progress. Last month during the New York City Council’s hearing on the Equal Benefits Bill, a measure that requires NYC contractors to provide equal employment benefits to all employees, whether they be in same-sex relationships or married, the bill got a big boost when Brain McLaughlin, Chair of the 1.5 million-strong New York City Central Labor Council, threw his organization’s unqualified support behind passage. Union members also testified in support of the legislation and were a major presence at the pre-hearing rally and press conference on the steps of City Hall.
The ad on H&M’s labor practices was paid for by the “Pride in My Union” campaign of the Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation and by New York Jobs with Justice.
by Beth Shapiro