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H&M hit with $41 million dollar fine for breaching employee privacy

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Employees’ data privacy has been breached by the fast-fashion giant, invading personal lives by sharing confidential notes around management.

H and M storefront where data privacy was compromised.

Swedish fast-fashion chain H&M has recently been fined more than $41 million (35.2 million Euros) for allegedly breaching privacy and tracking the personal lives of their employees on a company database.

The data includes but is not limited to: Workers’ illnesses, religious beliefs, family problems, and vacations. The notes, which were used to evaluate employees’ performances, were often based on workplace meetings and one-on-one conversations. The data collected was intimate, possibly confidential, and very much not meant to be seen and analyzed by others.

As many as 50 other managers were able to view the notes of each employee. Managers at H&M’s Nuremberg customer service center began these practices in 2014, at the very latest.

Regulators are calling H&M’s practices a “particularly intensive interference” with employees’ rights, while Johannes Caspar – the data protection commissioner – called the scandal a “serious disregard” to workers’ data privacy.

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Regarding the scale and severity of the breach, Caspar also commented: “The qualitative and quantitative extent of the employee data accessible to the entire management level of the company shows a comprehensive research of the employees, which is without comparison in recent years.”

We live in a world where data is the most coveted commodity. Utilizing employees’ extensive personal details for company gain is morally compromising, as it allows for workers to be manipulated for profit. The situation H&M created has left their employees vulnerable, to say the least.

H&M has commented on the accusations, stating that these practices are “not in line with H&M’s guidelines and instructions”. All in all, the company seems to be cooperating with the investigation. Though they are not able to fully comment on the accusations at this time as the incident is still under legal examination, H&M has stated that they are offering financial compensation to those employees who were at Nuremberg for at least a month since May 2018. They have also stated that they have taken several steps to protect their workers’ data privacy from here on out.

Let’s hope that this multi-million-dollar fine sets a precedence for the rest of the industry – organized data collection and negligence at this scale will not be tolerated.

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Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, self-sufficiency, and to stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. Besides filmmaking, Anaïs enjoys reading good fiction and watching sketch and stand-up comedy.

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