WASHINGTON — A coalition of worker and labor rights groups alleged in a report released Thursday that a core group of apparel factories used by H&M in Bangladesh haven’t met mandated deadlines for safety repairs, potentially endangering hundreds of workers.
The Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network and Worker Rights Consortium, which jointly published the report, claim the H&M contractors are “dramatically behind” a remediation schedule mandated by The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a consortium of 190 companies, including H&M, Carrefour, Inditex, Primark, C&A and Marks & Spencer that was formed in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse that claimed the lives of more than 1,133 people.
In the report, the groups analyzed public inspections of 32 of H&M’s 56 reported “platinum” and “gold” factories that are covered by the Accord, claiming they are the best performers in H&M’s supply chain in Bangladesh. The labor groups said it focused on these factories because the initial inspections were completed 12 months ago and “H&M has had the longest amount of time to ensure the completion of renovations.”
H&M is said to use 229 manufacturing factory suppliers in Bangladesh, according to the report. The monthlong analysis conducted this year was based on publicly available factory inspection reports and corrective action plans disclosed by the Accord.
“As the largest apparel buyer in Bangladesh, H&M’s decisions and actions affect the greatest number of workers. H&M is also highly influential in the industry, both with factories and with other brands,” the groups said in the report. “Through its leadership, H&M can help to increase brand compliance with the terms of the Accord and provide both the carrots and sticks necessary for factories to complete required repairs in a timely manner.”
According to the report, the safety inspections conducted by Accord engineers in the 32 H&M factories uncovered 518 violations of structural safety requirements, 836 fire safety violations and 650 electrical safety violations, all of which called for remediation. The Accord identified the specific corrective action required for each violation and a deadline for the completion of that action.
But today, 52 percent of those factories are said to be behind schedule in implementing remediation plans, the report said. Some 71 percent of structural renovations are behind schedule, while 50.1 percent of fire safety repairs are lagging, it alleged.
H&M defended remediation being carried out by the factories it uses in Bangladesh, but did not address the specific allegations against the company in the report.
“It is correct that the Accord is experiencing some delays of the planned remediation process — a challenge to all of the collaborating participants within the Accord,” an H&M spokeswoman said in the e-mail. “Although any delay is of great concern to us, it is of utmost importance that measures taken are according to the high-quality standards agreed between the Bangladesh Government and the Accord/Alliance.”
The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety is a separate group of 26 major global brands and retailers, including Wal-Mart, Gap and Target, mostly from North America.
She said H&M is “genuinely committed” to the Accord and is only producing in factories that meet Accord requirements for operation.
“We have worked out solutions for all financial support requests together with our suppliers and are cooperating closely with them to remediate according to corrective and tailor-made action plans,” she added. “The safety of the textile workers in Bangladesh, and other countries where H&M is buying products from, is very important to us and we are convinced that the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety is making the industry safer. The collaboration within the Accord makes it possible to work on a wider level and reach the whole textile industry in Bangladesh. This is very important as this is not an H&M-specific challenge, but concerns the entire textile industry.”
The report further alleged that some of the H&M factories have failed to meet three renovations critical for fire safety. Some 16 percent of the factories failed to meet the deadline for removing locks on doors, while 55.2 percent have failed to remove sliding doors and collapsible gates that impeded workers in the case of fire emergencies, and some 60.7 percent have failed to install fire-rated doors and enclose stairwells.
“These findings are particularly concerning because these are the suppliers that H&M itself describes as its most important, closest and most ethical business partners — yet not a single factory has completed the required renovations on schedule and most are far behind on numerous vital safety repairs,” the groups charged in the report. “Instead, workers in most of these ‘Gold’ and ‘Platinum’ H&M factories continue to toil in grossly unsafe conditions, without access to viable escape routes,” which were similar to conditions in other factory tragedies.
“H&M, like many other brands, assured the public in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse that it would take the steps necessary to ensure the safety of the workers in Bangladesh who sew its clothes,” the report added. “Based on the Accord’s public disclosure of remediation progress, we must conclude that H&M has failed to honor those commitments.”
A spokesman for the Accord, who is based in Amsterdam, said he did not know which Accord factories were analyzed in the report and could not comment on specific allegations, but he noted: “It is correct that a large number of factories are behind schedule and the Accord has already reported this in our latest quarterly report.”
“What I can say at this stage is that we remain vigilant in accelerating the pace and level of remediation at the large number of Accord-inspected factories where execution of the remediation is inadequate or too far behind schedule,” he added.