10 Ways H&M Is Spinning the Facts on Worker Safety in Bangladesh

H&M, Clean Clothes Campaign, Maquila Solidarity Network, International Labor Rights Forum, Bangladesh, Rana Plaza, workers rights, human rights, sweatshops, sweatshop workers, sweatshop labor, forced labor, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Accord on Fire and Building Safety

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1. “[W]e are only producing in factories that meet the accord requirements for operation and we have taken the required measurements.”

Meeting the accord requirements for operation means that the factory building is not at risk of immediate collapse and that the accord has not formally declared the factory noncompliant.

However, this does not mean that these factories are safe—far from it. The accord approach is that, where there is no immediate risk to life, factories remain in operation while carrying out the required repairs to bring them into full compliance with the accord’s safety standards.

The accord’s corrective action plans establish deadlines based on the urgency of the repair and the amount of time it is likely to take for the repair to be carried out.

H&M should aim for a higher standard than avoiding factories that are at the point of collapse.

H&M should aim for a higher standard than simply avoiding factories that are at the point of collapse. After all, H&M prides itself on setting a higher bar, as it recently announced a high ranking in “sustainability communication.”

H&M’s sustainability communication should be based on honesty, rather than confusing customers by implying that its supplier factories are totally safe, when it’s clear that they are not.

H&M also says that “fire exits are one of the most fundamental requirements for a supplier in order to be allowed to produce for H&M.” If this is true, then why are at least 78,842 people sewing for H&M in factories that lack adequate fire exits?

H&M should bring its suppliers into compliance with the requirements of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Taking the required measures means completing the renovations required under the accord’s safety action plans within the required deadlines, which H&M has not done.

H&M, Clean Clothes Campaign, Maquila Solidarity Network, International Labor Rights Forum, Bangladesh, Rana Plaza, workers rights, human rights, sweatshops, sweatshop workers, sweatshop labor, forced labor, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Accord on Fire and Building Safety

Photo by Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock

2. “[W]here H&M is lead-brand, almost 60 percent of the remediation work is completed and we see good progress.”

Our report wasn’t based on factories where H&M is the “lead brand,” (an internal accord mechanism that assigns specific brands the responsibility to oversee progress in specific factories). It was based on an evaluation of suppliers which H&M itself claims are their most important and strategic suppliers.

As such, this statement is meaningless in the context of the report’s findings, which H&M has not refuted.

Not a single H&M strategic supplier was in full compliance with the fire and building codes.

H&M’s assertion that over 40 percent of repairs have not been completed in those factories where H&M is the lead brand is quite disturbing. If this is accurate, it is unacceptable.

However, we are not in a position to verify this claim by H&M unless H&M publicly releases the list of factories where it’s the lead brand. If H&M wants to rely on this set of data to make its claims, it should also make that data publicly available so that it can be verified.

This statement by H&M also does not take into account its failure to meet mandated remediation deadlines.

As our report analyzing H&M’s level of compliance at its strategic suppliers showed, not a single H&M strategic supplier was in full compliance with the fire and building codes. In addition, in 53 percent of the factories, the majority of safety renovations were behind schedule. How can that be counted as good progress?

H&M, Clean Clothes Campaign, Maquila Solidarity Network, International Labor Rights Forum, Bangladesh, Rana Plaza, workers rights, human rights, sweatshops, sweatshop workers, sweatshop labor, forced labor, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Accord on Fire and Building Safety

Photo by Andrew Biraj for Reuters

3. “[I]t is correct that we and the other buyers within the accord are experiencing some delays to work being carried out to initial timelines.”

Acknowledging a problem is only a first step toward fixing it. Unfortunately, H&M’s earlier update on its “Conscious Actions,” prior to the release of our report, stated that all remediation was “done”—a statement that was clearly inaccurate.

Furthermore, “some delays” seems to be quite the understatement when the majority of H&M “Gold” and “Platinum” suppliers were behind on more than 50 percent of the required renovations.

H&M, Clean Clothes Campaign, Maquila Solidarity Network, International Labor Rights Forum, Bangladesh, Rana Plaza, workers rights, human rights, sweatshops, sweatshop workers, sweatshop labor, forced labor, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Accord on Fire and Building Safety

Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/Getty Images

4. “[T]here have been problems with deliveries of new upgraded fire doors and sprinklers due to import delays since none of these products are available in Bangladesh.”

It is true that certain products, including fire doors, required to meet standards need to be imported and weren’t readily available in Bangladesh in 2013.

However, for H&M to claim that this is still a problem over two years later is unacceptable and a weak excuse for the fact that 61 percent of H&M’s strategic suppliers do not have fire doors.

H&M is a huge multinational brand, running a complicated, multi-faceted business throughout almost every country in the globe.

The fact is 61 percent of H&M’s strategic suppliers do not have fire doors.

Its entire business model is based on speed and efficiency. It has a staff of nearly 600 employees in Bangladesh alone (not counting the hundreds of thousands of factory workers making clothing for the company), and company profits after taxes of US$1.87 billion in the first nine months of this year.

It’s difficult to believe that the importation of fire doors and sprinklers would be beyond its power, if it were really the priority H&M claims it to be.

A Le Monde reporter put this best in an article titled “Au Bangladesh, H&M en panne de portes coupe-feu” (translation: “In Bangladesh, H&M out of fire doors”).

The reporter references H&M’s statement “some technical and structural challenges require more time and access to technology not available in Bangladesh” and incredulously asks: “For a fire door?”

H&M, Clean Clothes Campaign, Maquila Solidarity Network, International Labor Rights Forum, Bangladesh, Rana Plaza, workers rights, human rights, sweatshops, sweatshop workers, sweatshop labor, forced labor, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Accord on Fire and Building Safety

Photo by Sorbis/Shutterstock

5. “All of our factories have emergency exits, that is a requirement from our side. What has failed is that some factories have old doors that have not been changed to new fireproof doors that meet all requirements. Here there has been a delay.”

An exit cannot be considered an emergency exit if it lacks fireproof doors. Therefore, it is not correct that all of H&M’s suppliers have emergency exits. According to the analysis we conducted for our report, 61 percent of H&M’s most strategic suppliers lacked fire-rated doors and enclosed stairwells and therefore lacked fire exits.

A paragraph that we wrote for our report is worth sharing again here:

“The installation of fire-rated doors and enclosure of stairwells is perhaps the single most important step a factory can take to prevent workers from being killed in a fire. In Bangladesh, most garment manufacturing is performed in multi-story buildings, many of which are six stories high or more.

When a fire breaks out in a multi-story building, smoke immediately begins to spread up and out, filling any open area. If, as is the case in most garment factories in Bangladesh, there are not fireproof doors installed at the entrance and exit to each floor, thus isolating the stairwells from other building spaces, the stairwells will quickly fill with smoke and become impassable, trapping workers on the upper stories.

This is the defect that has been the primary culprit in virtually every mass fatality fire in the Bangladesh garment industry, including the Tazreen Fashions fire in November of 2012, which killed more than a hundred workers.

Conversely, if a facility has properly enclosed stairwells and fire doors, as required under national law and the Accord’s standards, then the exit stairwells are protected from smoke and heat and remain clear, allowing workers to safely exit the building.

Any factory where a lack of stairwell enclosure and fire doors has been identified, but where these hazards remain uncorrected, is effectively a death trap.”

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One Response to “10 Ways H&M Is Spinning the Facts on Worker Safety in Bangladesh”

  1. jeffrey zhou says:

    It’s a shame to see a fashion giant that posted a US$2.93B this year not being able to provide fully equipped factories for their suppliers/workers. The cost of human lives are far greater than the costs to install fire exits and sprinklers. As part of my objective at coutureyourwaste.com, I aim to bring further awareness to my audience the appalling measures large fashion brands have taken to increase safety for their garment workers. We would love to hear your thoughts!

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