STOCKHOLM Hennes & Mauritz (HMb.ST), the world's second-biggest fashion retailer, said on Tuesday that it made every effort to ensure its cotton did not come from appropriated land but could not provide an absolute guarantee.
Swedish TV4 said H&M was using cotton from areas in Ethiopia that are vulnerable to land grabbing -- the buying or leasing of land in developing countries, often by foreign companies, without the consent of affected local communities.
"According to (TV4's) investigation, cotton used for the production of H&M's clothes in Ethiopia comes from areas subject to land grabbing," TV4 said in an emailed statement.
H&M said it did not accept such practices.
It began small-scale buying of clothes from suppliers in Ethiopia in 2013, its first sourcing from an African country.
Its operations are widely seen as part of the Ethiopian government's plans to build up a garment production industry.
"H&M does not accept appropriation of land, so-called land-grabbing," the company said in a statement.
"Because of that we demand that our suppliers ensure that they do not use cotton from the Omo Valley region where there is a higher risk for land-grabbing."
However, H&M said it could not guarantee that cotton in its clothes does not come from areas subject to land-grabbing.
The company said it had undertaken an analysis that showed land-grabbing did not occur in the area where its direct suppliers are located. It was not possible to trace any land-grabbing further down its cotton delivery chain, it said.
The Ethiopian government has leased large swathes of land, mainly in its western Gambella and Benishangul Gumuz regions, to large companies such as Indian firm Karuturi Global, hoping to boost agricultural productivity.
Critics, however, say many people -- poor farmers in particular -- have been forced off their land under the scheme.
H&M sources mainly from Asia and is sensitive about its supply chain.
A Bangladeshi factory collapse last year killed more than 1,100 people, heaping pressure on big fashion firms to improve working conditions at suppliers.
(Reporting by Helena Soderpalm and Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm, Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa; Editing by Simon Johnson/Ruth Pitchford)