As H&M shareholders prepare to meet in Sweden on Wednesday, a new report is slamming the fast-fashion retailer for failing to take necessary steps to ensure worker safety at all of its plants.
In a joint report by the Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network, and Worker Rights Consortium, H&M is accused of failing to install necessary and potentially life-saving fire doors at its factories, despite agreeing to do so when it signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh three years ago.
Almost all of H&M’s factories remain behind schedule in carrying out mandated renovations, the report said, while nearly one thousand required renovations had still not been completed, and to date, 70 percent still do not have adequate fire exits, potentially risking the lives of thousands of workers should a fire occur.
“Three years after the signing of the Accord, there is no more excuse for such delays,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign. “It is unacceptable that in the majority of H&M factories in Bangladesh workers still run the risk of being trapped in the building in case of a fire.”
The report acknowledged H&M had made some progress in securing its factories. All factories cited in a January 2016 report as still having lockable doors have since been removed, and the percentage of sliding doors or collapsible gates still in place has “decreased considerably.”
In response to the report, H&M published a series of charts in which it reported on its level of compliance with repairs and renovations required under the Accord. According to H&M’s information, which covers all 255 of its suppliers in Bangladesh, all collapsible gates and sliding doors are removed, but 61 percent of the factories have not yet completed the required fire door renovations. This contrasts a previous communication by H&M which stated that “fire exits are one of the most fundamental requirements for a supplier in order to be allowed to produce for H&M.”
“As a result of campaign pressure, H&M is showing new levels of transparency, which is laudable,” said Liana Foxvog of the International Labor Rights Forum. “However, the numbers they are releasing now are not only considerably lower than the numbers we retrieved for its most trusted suppliers, they also make H&M’s earlier reassuring communication look questionable. H&M also still fails to inform us on what the company itself is doing to speed up the renovations.”
These new findings come just months after a February 2016 fire at broke out at H&M supplier Matrix Sweaters, where deadly casualties were only prevented because workers had not yet arrived for their first shift. As the largest buyer of clothing made in Bangladesh, and the first company to sign the Accord, the report calls for H&M “set the standard in compliance” for other brands before the next fire occurs.