Fast fashion clothier H&M said it will increase its volume of business with Bangladesh as the country has improved its safety and labor rights.
The retailer’s chief executive Karl-Johan Persson was in the low-wage nation this week, visiting factories and meeting with leaders of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), suppliers and trade union leaders, to discuss relevant issues in the industry.
According to Bangladesh’s The Daily Star, Persson said after a meeting with Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, “Bangladesh has improved a lot in quality and prices, which is great, and we are looking for sustainability here.”
H&M is currently Bangladesh’s biggest apparel buyer, and the retailer sources goods from more than 200 factories in the country, all of which it discloses on its website.
This week’s visit was Persson’s first since the Rana Plaza building collapse in April last year left more than 1,000 dead and put Bangladesh under scrutiny for it’s substandard safety and labor conditions. While Persson touted the country for its progress since, he said three important challenges must still be addressed: industrial relations, environmental issues and poor infrastructure.
Bangladesh’s Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which H&M signed on to in an effort to help improve conditions in the country’s garment industry, said this week that it has inspected all of its 1,106 member factories and found safety issues in each one.
Accord inspectors uncovered 80,000 safety issues ranging from more minor hazards like reducing weight loads and adhering to load management plans, to areas requiring more immediate attention like installing fire doors and automated alarm systems, establishing fire protected exits from the factory buildings and strengthening building columns. The Accord found just 17 of the factories to have unacceptable structural integrity, and inspectors recommended those facilities be evacuated for remediation. Plans for remediation at the remaining factories are underway.
In the last year, Bangladesh has made improvements like easing its trade union laws to allow garment workers to form trade unions without permission from factory owners and eliminating tariffs on imported safety equipment like fire doors to keep factories safe at a lower cost to owners.
Persson said, “We are satisfied with the present situation in the RMG [ready-made garment] sector in Bangladesh. Economic growth in the country is also impressive. A lot of improvements have taken place in the factories, which will greatly benefit the country,” The Daily Star reported.