On the day of H&M’s annual shareholder meeting, activists from cities worldwide poured into the streets to demand that the Swedish retailer live up to its promise to keep Bangladesh garment workers safe. Three years after H&M led the signing of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, forged in the aftermath of Rana Plaza’s deadly collapse, a new report claims that the majority of its supplier factories in Bangladesh are still death traps. Despite some modicum of progress, such as the removal of lockable doors and most collapsible gates, the Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network, and Worker Rights Consortium say that almost all of the retailer’s factories remain behind schedule in carrying out mandated—and life-saving—renovations. According to a new analysis from the labor groups, 69 percent of H&M’s strategic suppliers have yet to complete the installation of all fire-rated doors, which would provide safe egress for workers in the factories.
Photo by John Gamache
The numbers today, in fact, paint a bleaker picture than they did in January, since information from an additional 22 factories have now been made public. The new factories, the report said, performed comparably with the first 32 regarding fire doors but worse when it came to the removal of sliding doors, collapsible gates, and lockable doors.
“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.”
Liana Foxvog, director of organizing and communications at the International Labor Rights Forum, commended H&M for responding to earlier calls to safety by releasing a series of charts that enumerated its level of compliance with repairs and renovations under the accord.
Still, despite noting in a prior communication that “fire exits are one of the most fundamental requirements for a supplier in order to be allowed to produce for H&M,” 61 percent of H&M’s factories, by its own admission, have yet to complete the required fire-door renovations.
“As a result of campaign pressure, H&M is showing new levels of transparency, which is laudable,” Foxvog said. “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.”
In light of the delays, the four labor groups want H&M to not only provide a “realistic timeline” for the completion of the renovations, but also disclose the financing it’s given its suppliers to facilitate repairs.
Others, like occasional Ecouterre contributor Amy DuFault, who led a protest outside H&M’s Time Square flagship store in New York City on Tuesday, take a dim view of H&M’s declarations of sustainability when lives remain at stake.
“H&M is about to open its 4,000th store in New Delhi later this month. Obviously their sites are set on growth rather than the safety of their workers yet when it comes to their responsibilities under the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety movement is seemingly at a snail’s pace,” DuFault told Ecouterre. “So I have a hard time with H&M ever calling themselves sustainable or conscious in any way when they can’t protect the very people making their clothing. Doesn’t that seem like the most basic part of sustainability? Provide a safe workplace where people don’t get killed or maimed?”