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H&M becomes second family business recognised by social responsibility award

By Michael Finnigan

H&M has become the second family business to take out an award for social responsibility in business, after Axel Johnson Group took out the inaugural award last year.

Karl-Johan Persson, the third-gen chief executive at Swedish fashion company H&M, was this week presented the Pontus Schultz award by Princess Victoria of Sweden.

The jury said that Persson won the award for improving wages and working conditions in the textile factories in a number of developing countries.

H&M was the first business to sign a fire and building safety agreement for textile workers in Bangladesh, after last year's collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory killed 1,000 people.

H&M has more of its products made in Bangladesh than any other fashion retailer, but was not implicated in the disaster, which is considered one of the deadliest structural failures in modern history.

The jury also said that H&M had shown their dedication to improving sustainability at the 68-year-old company, which has led to new recycling initiatives in 54 countries, and more durable clothing.

“We want to reward Karl-Johan Persson for his work towards sustainability and the controversial issue of working conditions in the textile industry,” said Sara Öhrvall, chairman of the Pontus Schultz Foundation.

Responding to the honour, Persson said: “I see this award as an acknowledgment that the investments we are making in sustainability are recognised and valued outside H&M.”

“We believe that sustainability is important for both customers and employees and therefore we use our size and influence to promote development in both environmental and social issue.”

Persson is the grandson of H&M founder Erling Persson, who established the clothing giant in 1946 after seeing the cheap and stylish clothes offered in the US. Today the family owns 38% of H&M and are worth an estimated €25.7 billion.

Antonia Ax:son Johnson won the first Pontus Schultz award last year for remaining steadfast in her mission to improve sustainability and equality despite struggling through 2008's financial crisis.

Pontus Schultz was a Swedish journalist and debater that died in a car crash in 2012. The foundation was set up in the same year and is dedicated to pursuing the journalist's vision improving diversity in business and better utilising the planet's resources.

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