The discovery of few thousand labels belonging to a global clothing brand H&M buried inside a Nature Reserve has raised a number of issues with regard to Corporate Responsibility within the industry.

A young team belonging to the environment organization Climate Action Now Sri Lanka [CAN] have made the find deep within the Wetahirakanda Nature Reserve on the 3rd October.  

While the team has been involved with the original purpose of collecting a large amount of garbage that was dumped by the side of the A2 Highway that cuts across the Wetahirakanda Nature Reserve, they have made the accidental discovery of the above labels buried about 2 feet in ground, beyond the illegal garbage dump, about 50 meters away from the road,.

The labels, belonging to H&M, a popular clothing brand appeared to have been cut from the clothing, according one of the officials of the environmental group. The possibility of similar stashes in the vicinity could not be discounted in this remote location, situated far away from any of Srilanka’s industrial zones, she said. ‘We only had our bare hands to dig into the ground.’ said a member of the team who took part in the cleanup effort.  

Incidentally Wetahirakanda Nature Reserve situated in Hambantota district, functions as an important elephant corridor that facilitates the movement of herds of elephants between Yala and Udawalawe National parks.

Upon inquiry it appears that a number of manufacturers in Sri Lanka make apparel for H & M.

According to a senior industry professional, the possibility exists that the above find by the environmental group could be linked to illegal pilfering from one or more of the plants involved in manufacturing apparel for the above brand.

The fact that the labels appear to have been removed from a large consignment of apparel is an indication of such attempts at pilfering, said the industry senior who requested anonymity. The labels, seemingly of recent make contain sufficient information to identify as to the origin of labels such as the plant in which the said apparel were manufactured, and the License Office of the Brand in Srilanka could easily identify the source of these labels, he said.

Sri Lanka takes pride in its branding as a producer of Garments without Guilt, with highly strict set of standards being applied throughout the industry, particularly among the large manufacturers that supply apparel to world renowned Brands. With a level of quality failures in its production of apparel set as low as 2.3%, an average factory takes pains to ensure highest quality along its process of production with an elaborate set of quality inspections, both in-line as well as end – line.

Once the apparel is completed it undergoes AQL or Accepted Quality Level inspection, to be followed by Final Inspection of selected samples by the Brand owners themselves. Apparel that fails the above quality inspections is subjected to being incinerated under strict supervision, he said.

Its common standard for a manufacturing company to employ a Brand Protection Unit [BPU] with a mandate to inspect any violation of the security provided to the Brand, commonly named as brand abuse. With such stringent protocols throughout the industry, the finding of thousands of labels of a reputed brand seemingly hidden with intent inside a forest is a serious cause for concern which deserves an investigation, according to the industry senior.

Any clothing brand that sells its apparel in Europe comes under strict guidelines set by European Union with regard to corporate responsibility. H&M in particular follows further standards including OEKO as well as GOTS, which cover extensive standards that extend from textiles to labels themselves.

With the state of affairs in the global apparel industry involving reputed brands under such high standards and increased legal scrutiny, the recent discovery of thousands of labels belonging to a global apparel brand inside a nature reserve is one that both Sri Lanka as well as the Brand itself need to be highly concerned of.