A garment factory in Bangladesh

WASHINGTON — A coalition of worker and labor rights groups alleged in an updated report released Wednesday that all but one of a core group of H&M’s supplier apparel factories in Bangladesh remain severely behind schedule on safety repairs, continuing to put thousands of workers at risk.

The Clean Clothes Campaign, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Maquila Solidarity Network and the Worker Rights Consortium published an update to a report on H&M’s factories that they released in late September claiming 32 of the Swedish retailer’s apparel factories in Bangladesh had not met mandated deadlines for safety repairs.

H&M is a member of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a consortium of 190 companies that includes Carrefour, Inditex, Primark, C&A and Marks & Spencer. The group was formed in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013 that claimed the lives of more than 1,133 people. The labor and worker rights groups are witness signatories to the Accord.

Based on a review in January of publicly available information and corrective action plans posted on the Accord’s Web site, the groups said 31 of H&M’s suppliers are still behind schedule and that more than 50 percent are “still lacking adequate fire exits.”

“More than two-and-a-half years into the process of the Bangladesh Accord, every single mandated repair at H&M’s suppliers should have already been completed,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium. “However, the sad reality is that hardly any of H&M’s supplier factories in Bangladesh can be called ‘safe.’”

One of the most severe delays is in a critical area involving renovations of factory exits for workers, particularly in the case of a fire, the report alleged. In 13 percent of the factories, compared to 16 percent in September, lockable doors have not been removed, while 38 percent of the factories, down from 55 percent in September, have not removed sliding doors and collapsible gates, according to the report. Fifty-five percent of the group of factories has failed to install fire-rated doors and enclosed stairwells, compared to 61 percent in September, the report said.

“We continue to take a very active role within the Accord and are following the remediation plan progress closely,” the company said in a statement. “We see good progress, but to further speed up the remediation we are currently working closely together with IndustriALL Global Union, one of the Accord signatory unions] to use our combined leverage where needed.”

The company pledged to continue supporting its 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.”

 “Fire exits are one of the most fundamental requirements for a supplier in order to be allowed to produce for H&M,” the company added. “There have always been clear escape routes in our supply chain although they are in the process of being improved in accordance with new standards. We are in close dialogue with the suppliers and are following up on the work that remains to be done.”

According to the report, it has been 16 to 22 months since H&M’s strategic suppliers were initially inspected by the Accord’s safety engineers and directed to make renovations by mandated deadlines.

“By now, each of these factories should have already completed all required renovations, with minimal exceptions,” the groups said.

The research concluded that 992 required structural, fire and electrical renovations have not yet been completed, which the groups calculated is an average of 31 uncompleted safety renovations per factory.

The groups also noted that they raised concerns to H&M about the delays in repairs in October, claiming they could be the result of the company’s “failure” to assess the financial ability of suppliers to carry out mandated repairs. They called on the retailer to provide sufficient funding for fire, electrical and structural renovations, and to make public the financing it provides.

“Limited progress” has been made, the report surmised.

The percentage of renovations reported as incomplete and behind schedule is down to 24.5 percent from 52 percent in September, the report said. In addition, the remediation involving exits for workers has also progressed, based on the percentage of declines in factories where lockable doors had not been removed, for example.

“However, progress achieved is far too scant. These factories were inspected well over a year ago, with some approaching two years since inspection, and the hazards still waiting to be addressed are life-threatening in nature, which makes immediate remediation imperative,” the report concluded. “As of today, hardly any of H&M’s factories in Bangladesh can be called safe — and more than half have failed even to create proper fire exits. For a company with H&M’s resources and clout — it is the largest buyer of clothes in Bangladesh – this performance is indefensible.”

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