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Uh Oh! Yet Even More Reasons to Ban H&M

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By Arwa Lodhi

Meet Hoda Katebi, a feminist, political activist, and the creator of  JooJoo Azad,  a blog aimed at “challenging Orientalist mainstream media  representations of Middle-Eastern, Hijab-wearing, Muslim women,” and revealing unethical brands, amongst other things.

Since Hoda shares many of the same values as Eluxe, we are avid readers, and her Boycott list was of particular interest. For the most part, we already knew about a lot of brands on that list, and why they made it there. But there were a few surprises, and this note about H&M was one of them.

We agree on all the reasons Hoda gives for boycotting H&M – despite the fact that the Swedish giant has offered affordable Conscious Collections. For example, first off, she claims their over-stuffed factories in Cambodia (in which thousands of garment workers faint on the job annually due to  poor working conditions and extensive hours on end) are nothing less of sweatshops.  Four years after signing the Bangladesh safety accords after the horrible 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse,  H&M’s factories remain unsafe.

But we’ll let Hoda herself explain the rest with this (slightly adapted) extract from her blog post.

“The H&M ‘conscious’ collection prides itself on using materials and production methods that are better for the environment and mindfully sourced:  organic cotton, recycled wool, and organic silk are just a few of the sexy/trendy buzzwords they use.  Of course, while H&M’s efforts at exploring and experimenting with sustainable fabrics and materials is commendable, my applause is (very) short.

Oxymorons of ‘ethical’ fast-fashion aside, H&M’s conscious collections–which they are currently in their 6th year of producing–constitute  ‘greenwashing’: an attempt to use self-proclaimed environmental sustainability to wash (or attempt to hide) the human rights abuses that the rest of their clothing is complicit in. Because logically, if H&M has constructed an entirely separate ‘sustainability’ collection, what are they then implying about how the rest of their clothing is made?

By creating a (very, very small) collection centered on sustainability, H&M is able to use this line to market themselves as ‘green,’ ‘ethical,’ and incomparable to other fast-fashion brands. And by focusing on fabrics alone, they’re able to bamboozle us into ignoring their  human rights violations, contributions to mass deforestation and horrendous working conditions.

This is pure greenwashing – a.k.a. a strategic marketing/branding tool: you are able to divert attention from the violence behind your brand and market yourself as what you are not: ethical, sustainable, and conscious.

Not Just for Fast-Fashion Brands

The fun part about writing a political fashion blog is that you notice how everything is related: this practice isn’t just designated to the fashion industry.

Israel, similar to H&M and other fast-fashion brands, is also great at greenwashing things — that and running an apartheid regime set on ethno/religious-supremacy. Except after this ‘washing’, Israel’s laundry comes out pink.

Israel is noted for its  ‘pinkwashing‘: think greenwashing, except with all things queer/LGBTQI+.  During Pride Month, for example, you might have seen a few of  these pinkwashing flags  at your parades/marches.

Israel tries to brand itself as the “queer haven of the Middle East,” and uses anti-Muslim propaganda and harmful portrayals of Muslim countries’ relationships with the LGBTQ community in order to brand themselves as a ‘safe sanctuary’. The truth is, as in any place on earth, queer and trans Muslims very much do exist in the Middle East, and  their complex experiences  cannot be so easily simplified into categories like ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

But even more so, similar to fast-fashion brands’ ‘revolution-washing’ (using hijab-wearing models for surface-level inclusion – all whilst exploiting mainly Muslim garment workers in places like Bangladesh or Turkey) or ‘greenwashing,’  Israel’s pinkwashing claims ‘inclusion’ on the surface level only. Israel’s military occupation of Palestine not only fails to privilege queer Palestinians, but Israel continuously  blackmails gay Palestinians into becoming informants, and  queer people continue to be stabbed and killed in gay-pride protests in Jerusalem.

So, How Is H&M Linked To This?

Given a shared history of attempting to distract from their human rights violations using various ‘washes,’ H&M and Israel’s come-together* for a travel campaign collaboration with the acclaimed blogger Andy Torres is just another spin in the old washing machine.

While it is not confirmed that this was an intentional collaboration between H&M and the State of Israel (although such a collaboration would not be unprecedented, given that H&M colludes closely with Ethiopia’s oppressive regime), the fact of the matter still stands: H&M is complicit of whitewashing Israel’s apartheid regime through this campaign. They are violating an international call of solidarity by Palestinians for the international community — one that countless musicians, academics, scholars, and creative/cultural makers have  signed on to  — and work to normalize what is far from normal: an apartheid state centered on ethno/religious supremacy.

In  their collaboration, Andy explored Tel Aviv, “the city that’s always down to party” wearing H&M head-to-toe. The editorial describes Israel as the “Land of Milk and Honey” – an idiom generally understood to mean a land of richness where all is well and people are happy, but also a reference to the Old Testament (yes I’ve read it) and its descriptions of ‘The promised land,’ which is the spurious religious root of some Jewish people’s claim to Palestinian land. Under political Zionist ideology, Israel is a God-given land to Jewish people, and that means uprooting and destroying the indigenous Palestinian population in order to create a Jewish majority,  violating international human rights for fifty years  in the process.

In short, H&M’s latest collaboration with Andy Torres works to portray a violent apartheid  state as the world’s next best travel destination.

Fashion IS Politics

Just as H&M tries to get away with branding itself as a ‘green’ fast-fashion brand, Israel also tries to brand itself as feminist, progressive, home of sexy soldiers (just like Gadhafi’s?), a safe-haven for LGBTQI+ people, and now with H&M’s support, a top tourist destination.  Never mind that many of the stops on Andy’s travel were built atop the destruction of Palestinian homes and villages — she wants to party and look cute doing it wearing H&M’s $7 off-the-shoulder blouse! And yet, just as you cannot be apolitical as a white person doing an advertisement campaign in South Africa during apartheid (given power structures that are built for white colonists at the expense of the indigenous Black population), this trip to Israel cannot be played off as apolitical either.

Of course, for readers of JooJoo Azad (I see you!), you know I believe that  all fashion is wholly political, period. So, this campaign acts as a further hyper-politicization of an already powerful form of visual communication.

And this isn’t the first time H&M’s love affair with Israel is being  called out  by international human rights activists: in 2010, the company opened a flagship store in Tel Aviv and 6 other major stores on stolen and illegal land, including in the ‘Malha Mall’ in Jerusalem.

“Malha is one of the Palestinian villages that were ethnically cleansed during the 1948 Nakba and whose original Palestinian inhabitants are refugees denied their UN-sanctioned right to return to their lands. Israel, to this day, continues its policies of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem by evicting Palestinians from their homes and replacing them with Jewish colonial settlers and by constructing tens of thousands of housing units for those settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory. All Israeli colonies are regarded as war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Not only is H&M complicit in erasing Israeli international war crimes, but they are actively building upon illegally-attained land and working to re-shape the brand of Israel to what it is not. So, whether through greenwashing sustainability or whitewashing war crimes and international human rights violations, H&M’s spot on the JooJoo Azad  Boycott List  has been rightfully earned. “

Reasons to Ban H&M

Even More Reasons to Boycott H&M

  • Now that Bangladesh has raised minimum wages, H&M has shifted much of their production to Ethiopia, where they work with an oppressive regime and several dodgy business partners. For example, they work closely with Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi, one of the richest men in the Arab world, who  burned entire forests to the ground to make room for ‘organic cotton production’ for the Swedish giant, and displaced entire villages in the process.
  • H&M hired Syrian child refugees in factories in Turkey, and paid them around 30 cents a day
  • In a bid to reduce employee numbers, the company used techniques to pressure Greek workers to quit so they wouldn’t have to pay them compensation for firing them. See more about this in Kristen Leo’s video, below.

What You Can Do To Make A Difference

1. Firstly, stop shopping there! Instead, try smaller, more ethical businesses like the ones found in Eluxe, or try thrifting, like Kristen Leo does.

2. Secondly, Tweet the company on Twitter and write on their Facebook wall to pressure them to change their highly nasty policies and raise awareness of the destruction they’re wreaking on the planet and people’s lives.

3. Finally, please share this article! For more info and the original article, please click here. Instagram:  @hodakatebi
First 2 and 5th image: H&M Images 3&4 from here.

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