Can Fast Fashion Brand H&M Change the Textile Industry in Ethiopia for the Better?


H&M, the poster child for confusing fashion—is it sustainable and responsible or not?—is poised to boost the quality and ethics of Ethiopia’s textile industry.

Along with Swedfund, a development financial institution, H&M wants to improve the social and environmental standards in Ethiopia’s nascent textile industry after a visit to the region earlier this year highlighted the country’s needs and viable offerings. Beginning this fall, H&M will start purchasing textiles from companies Swedfund is investing in. Swedfund has invested in more than 230 companies with a focus on responsible fiscal and environmental values, the institution claims.

“Swedfund will provide local market expertise and will invest in Ethiopian suppliers,” reports the Guardian. “This cooperation will also involve both parties setting standards for sustainable production and monitoring indicators such as water use and wages.”

“We see the cooperation as an opportunity to get involved in Ethiopia’s growing textile industry at an early stage and to contribute to more jobs. We have for many years worked in existing manufacturing countries to improve working conditions and the environment,” Karl-Johan Persson, CEO at H&M told the Guardian.

H&M’s interest may lie more in the fact that partnering with Ethiopia’s textile industry will cost the retailer less than purchasing from China, Cambodia, Bangladesh and other textile-producing countries. According to Thomas Ballweg, a procurement and technical consultant at GermanFashion, “On the one hand are the lower costs – much lower than in China – with 80 million people living there. And, it’s near the sea – and quick to get to Europe via the Suez Canal,” Ballweg told DW.

“Through this unique partnership with H&M, our goal is to contribute to developing the textile industry in Ethiopia, thus creating jobs with good working conditions that lift people out of poverty, especially women” Anna Ryott, managing director at Swedfund told the Guardian.

But will the move bring responsible textile manufacturing to the African nation or open the door to more sweatshop conditions and environmental hazards?

Responsible textile manufacturing is a necessary component to an ethical fashion industry, but the best step forward may be in reduced clothing manufacturing efforts in the first place—and a more focused effort in recycling, upcylcing and the creation of longer-wear products that decrease the need for new textiles altogether.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.