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H&M Signs Workers Rights Agreement

Safety agreement covers apparel workers in Bangladesh.

WASHINGTON — H&M has agreed to sign a binding fire and building safety agreement covering garment workers in Bangladesh in the wake of the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza building that has claimed the lives of 1,126 garment workers,  according to a labor rights watchdog group pressing retailers and brands to take collective action.

The Worker Rights Consortium said Monday that H&M will sign the accord with labor unions, which requires that companies mandate and pay for renovation and repairs to ensure factories in Bangladesh are made safe, among other provisions.

“H&M’s decision to sign the accord is crucial. They are the single largest producer of apparel in Bangladesh, ahead even of Wal-Mart. This accord now has tremendous momentum,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the WRC, the independent labor rights watchdog for over 175 U.S. colleges and universities.

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Nova noted that the agreement that H&M is signing is “substantially the same” fire and building safety program as that already embraced by PVH (Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein) and German retailer, Tchibo. The agreement is called the “Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.”

“This agreement will save lives,” said Nova.

The agreement stipulates that companies will agree to independent safety inspections with public reports, mandatory repairs and renovations, underwrite the costs and terminate business with any factory that refuses to make necessary safety upgrades. It also requires “a vital role” for workers and their unions.

“This agreement is exactly what is needed to finally bring an end to the epidemic of fire and building disasters that have taken so many lives in the garment industry in Bangladesh,” said Nova. “It is a legally binding, enforceable agreement under which signatory companies must take the steps necessary to protect the lives of the workers who make their clothes,” he added.

The WRC has called on all brands and retailers making garments in Bangladesh to sign the safety accord by May 15.