For years, H&M Sweden has claimed it donated defective and unsold goods to charities. "Clothes that fail to meet quality requirements are donated to charity organizations such as Oxfam, Caritas, the Red Cross and Terre des Hommes, its website claimed.
However, an investigation by Swedish national broadcaster SVT revealed that Red Cross branches in Stockholm and Örebro were the only charities in Sweden, Scandinavia and the whole of Europe to receive discarded H&M garments.
"We have not received any H&M clothes in Sweden or elsewhere. We have checked with Oxfam in the UK as well," Oxfam Sweden communications manager Robert Höglund told SVT. "Of course it's regrettable when the published information is wrong. It's sad if our brand is used in this way," he added.
"It's not right to use our name for false marketing by saying they donate clothes to Caritas, unless they really do of course," George Joseph of Caritas Sweden concurred.
Following the outcry, H&M Sweden removed all information about charities from its website.
To add insult to injury, however, H&M, a stalwart campaigner for recycling, was found to have burnt 19 tons of newly produced clothes in mint condition at a thermal plant in the city of Västerås in 2016 alone, an amount of clothing equaling 50,000 pairs of jeans. Earlier this autumn, the Danish news channel TV2 revealed that 9.6 tons of clothing were burned in that country in 2016.
H&M bränner varje år tonvis med oanvända kläder, avslöjar i dag @tv2danmark. Jag rapporterar för @svtnyheter. Vet du mer? Hör av dig. #mode #fastfashion #hållbarhet #swecsr #swegreen https://t.co/45f6BStd9K— Tobias A. Åkerblom (@taakerblom) October 15, 2017
Oddly enough, H&M's annual sustainability report failed to mention a single word about incinerating new clothes.
"We definitely see this as a problem we want to address," H&M environmental director Cecilia Strömblad Brännsten said. "From an environmental perspective, we obviously want our products to have as long a life as possible," she added.
Swedish Environment Minister Karolina Skog was highly critical of H&M's burning habits, pointing out that the clothing industry ranks second after the oil industry in terms of polluting the environment.
According to H&M, the incineration process only applies to garments damaged by mold or moisture during transportation, as well as clothes containing too high levels of hazardous chemicals.
Manufacturing a single pair of jeans requires about 20,000 liters (5,283 gallons) of water and yields about 9 kilograms (19 pounds) of carbon dioxide emissions.