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Labor Orgs Say H&M Behind on Safety Repairs in Bangladesh

Swedish retailer H&M may have been the first to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh after the deadly Rana Plaza building collapse called the country’s working conditions to light, but labor organizations say the retailer isn’t making progress on repairs as planned.

A new report published by the Clean Clothes Campaign, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Maquila Solidarity Network and the Worker Rights Consortium, found that in evaluating H&M’s progress on safety improvements, the retailer is coming up short.

“H&M is dramatically behind schedule in correcting the dangers identified by the Accord’s inspectors, thereby putting tens of thousands of workers’ lives at risk,” the report noted. “Even more disturbing, these negative results derive from an analysis focused exclusively on H&M’s “Platinum” and “Gold” suppliers, the subset of contract factories that H&M has deemed the best performers in its supply chain on labor and environmental issues.”

In analyzing H&M’s factory inspection reports and corrective action plans made public by the Accord—an initiative by textile brands and international unions to make Bangladesh’s textile sector safer—the labor orgs found that the retailer hasn’t honored the commitments it made to ensure worker safety at its supplier facilities.

Even those factories the retailer deems among its best performers have failed to meet mandated timeframes for repairs and renovations like installing fireproof doors, removing locking or sliding doors from fire exits and enclosing stairwells, the report noted.

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“For the first time ever, thanks to the Accord, H&M now knows all the renovations needed to finally make its factories safe so that workers will no longer risk their lives and worry whether they’ll experience the next Rana Plaza,” Bob Jeffcott of the Maquila Solidarity Network, said. “Despite this knowledge, they continue to drag their feet to carry out these critical renovations.”

Just one day before the H&M evaluation was published on the Clean Clothes Campaign site, and clearly with knowledge of the forthcoming report, H&M released an update of its progress on fire and building safety in Bangladesh.

First off, H&M noted, there are roughly 5,000 ready made garment factories in Bangladesh, the Accord is inspecting 1,600 of them. Of that 1,600, H&M works with less than 300, all of which meet the Accord’s standards for operation, and 60 percent of the company’s needed remediation work has been completed.

However, there have been delays, the retailer admitted.

“Some technical and structural challenges require more time and access to technology not available in Bangladesh,” H&M said in a statement. “Delays are also due to heavy workload for the Accord inspection experts dealing with these complex issues.”

The retailer said it has worked out solutions to support “timely” and “correct” remediation, noting that its presence in Bangladesh is long-term.

“H&M has a staff of nearly 600 in Bangladesh, who work full time on all aspects of production including the Accord,” the statement noted. “We will continue our long-term investment by fully supporting our suppliers in improving and upgrading their production facilities to safer and higher international standards as well as their management capabilities, allowing them to become competitive in a sustainable way.”

Clean Clothes Campaign’s Samantha Maher said following the retailer’s statement, however, “If only H&M was willing put the same energy into actually meeting their much lauded sustainability commitments as they do into promoting them, we may well be closer to seeing a safer garment industry in Bangladesh.”