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The decision to disclose H&M’s suppliers wasn’t one taken lightly, according to Camilla Emilsson Falk, the company’s head of media relations. “Behind this is a long record of preparatory work to build strong, strategic bonds with our suppliers,” she says. “[This allowed] us to disclose their names, their factories, and even their locations without major concerns about the ongoing competition on the best available production capacity in our industry.”

To H&M’s credit, the retailer doesn’t gloss over some of the thornier issues in the fashion industry, including higher wages for garment workers.

By placing the list in the public record, H&M wants to contribute to a “more transparent and ultimately more sustainable fashion industry,” Falk adds.

To H&M’s credit, the retailer doesn’t gloss over some of the thornier issues in the fashion industry, such as higher wages for garment workers, improving fire safety, or going beyond monitoring to create lasting change in its suppliers, even if these actions are listed in its progress report under the amorphous heading of “more to do” rather than the more measurable “on track.”

Other items on its to-do list include promoting more-sustainable leather, providing the “best possible” sustainability training for its designers and buyers, increasing workers’ knowledge of their rights, and reducing overtime in factories—all TBD at the moment. Obviously, more can and should be done.

But the retailer can also take pride in its successes: promoting planet-friendlier fabrics through its “Conscious” collections, collaborating with the French government on a pilot project to trace their products’ life cycles, banning perfluorinated compounds from its products, and working with the World Wildlife Fund to whittle its water footprint.

It’s easy to dismiss H&M’s efforts as greenwashing, poke holes in its so-called accomplishments, or argue that its quality-over-quantity business model is ultimately self-defeating. It’s true, the trend-driven system it relies on is responsible for much of the environmental and social degradation we face in the world today, and until that changes we’re hard-pressed to view the company as the paragon of sustainability it aspires to be.

For all its warts, however, H&M has a self-awareness the vast majority of its competitors lack. (When was the last time you saw a progress report from Zara? Topshop? Gap?)

The devil you know, perhaps.

+ 2012 Sustainability Report

+ H&M