Laura Bresson

Laura Bresson (24), flexible H&M store employee, on how she links the struggles of the people making the clothes she sells with her own activism.
'I want to support the young women in the factories'; to help them to secure higher wages so they can send their children to school, live in better houses and support their families.

“I started working for H&M in 2007, and 'became' the workers’ council in this store in 2010. Because there are only fifteen employees, the workers’ council or Betriebsrat consists of only one person, and that’s me. 

In 2011 I was invited to a seminar organised by the ExChains campaign about working conditions in the garment industry in Bangladesh. I was interested to know more about it, so that I'd be able to explain to colleagues about it.

During this seminar, a fact-finding trip to Bangladesh was announced, and I decided I wanted to take part in it. I made this trip in my own time; I want to make that very clear.

My first impressions were... I was very shocked. The living conditions, the crowdedness and traffic, the climate, poverty, and such friendly people nevertheless. It was all very new to me.

We visited two factories, one of which was producing for H&M. An H&M representative was with us. The factory was supposedly a 'model' factory according to best practices. But we saw that there was no emergency exit, there were no fire extinguishers, there was not much space at all for the workers it was very noisy and unhealthy for them. We tried to talk to the workers but they were afraid. At first they thought we were part of the management.

One remarkable person that I remember was a woman who had previously worked for the factory, who encouraged others to stand up for their rights. Most of the workers were very young teenage girls. They should be living their lives rather than working such long hours in unhealthy factories for such low wages. The working conditions in producing countries are so much worse than they are here. The people have to work with dangerous machinery and chemicals, and they have to work overtime to just get by.

I want to support the young women in the factories; to help them to secure higher wages so they can send their children to school, live in better houses and support their families.

When a factory collapses in producing countries, we write from the national H&M workers' council to our company's headquarters, demanding that they ensure safer factories at their suppliers. We have asked H&M about child labour. They say that there is no child labour at their suppliers' factories and that they are monitoring this. But the monitoring is always announced in advance, and the wages are so low that workers have to send their children to work just to make ends meet.

In 2012, we issued solidarity statements about various labour rights violations. We issued a joint declaration with the ZARA workers' council about the Building and Fire Safety Accord in Bangladesh. We collected signatures to support the Accord during a strike we held for our own wages here in Germany and on other occasions.

I want to make our ExChains network stronger, so that companies fulfil our demands. If the network grows, then it might be possible to improve the situation for workers in Bangladesh and other producing countries.”