A Dutch trade union has accused fashion retailer H&M and its logistics partner of cutting break times for warehouse staff and refusing to engage with workers in an alleged violation of local labour laws and its own policies.
Migrant workers at its Tilburg warehouse in the Netherlands, run by US-listed GXO Logistics on behalf of the world’s second largest fashion retailer, said that security protocols designed to prevent product theft were eating into their break times.
The accusations come as retailers race to meet demand during the Black Friday and Christmas peak season at a time of constricted labour supply, mounting pressure on logistics staff.
The Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV) said GXO had refused to open dialogue about requiring staff to work six days a week, leading 700 workers to petition the company over working conditions, saying their breaks had been reduced.
Warehouse management refused to accept the petition, the union said. GXO told H&M it would accept the petition but not while being filmed as FNV had demanded.
H&M said it strives to act ethically, transparently and responsibly and expects the same of its partners, while it had highlighted to GXO that its sustainability commitments require freedom of association for workers in its supply chain.
“We are confident that as the directly involved parties, GXO and FNV will use their best efforts to be fair, respectful and constructive in their dialogue and set the right actions for next steps,” it said.
GXO said it supports the right of free assembly and addresses staff concerns through Works Councils — internal employee representative bodies. “We comply with all labour regulations and policies and allegations to the contrary are false,” it added.
FNV says asking employees to raise their concerns through Works Councils — which it argues are vulnerable to the influence of management representatives — is not in line with H&M’s own guidelines on migrant workers, which allows for freedom of association with any trade union.
In an email response to the union, H&M said it “will take a neutral position” because it believed GXO’s local management offered to accept the petition and had not strayed from the retailer’s labour relationship principles and sustainability commitments.
Thulsi Narayanasamy, head of labour rights at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said that “H&M is yet to take responsibility directly for these workers in the same way it has for garment suppliers, despite warehouses and delivery drivers being a core part of their supply chain.”
A Slovakian working at the warehouse said he had only 35 minutes to rest during his physically demanding eight-hour shifts instead of 45 minutes.
“We tried to hand out the petition and go to the office. They blocked the doors with security. They wouldn’t let workers go out or in of the warehouse as if we are some kind of criminals,” he said.
The workers, mostly employed through agencies, come from Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Spain and Lithuania.
Aneta, who recently stopped working at the warehouse, said the pressure had been building in recent months with packing targets rising to 250 items an hour.
“I’m not sure if H&M knows about everything happening in the warehouse,” she said. “Management tells us ‘if H&M wants to know something then tell H&M you don’t speak English’.”
The accusations come as conditions within multinational supply chains are under greater scrutiny. Dyson, the British appliance maker, terminated a partnership with ATA IMS this week after a whistleblower accused the Malaysian parts maker of labour rights abuses, while online behemoth Amazon faced strikes in Europe on Friday over pay and conditions.
Some governments are seeking to make multinationals responsible for labour issues in their supply chain. Germany passed a law in June requiring large companies to ensure social and environmental standards are applied throughout their supply chains.