Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz AB has announced a number of new measures to help settle accusations of unfair labour practice in the US and secure fundamental worker's rights at all its workplaces worldwide. 

The Stockholm-based company, which has about 950 stores in 18 countries and 40,000 employees, on Thursday said discussions were underway with the central US workers union AFL-CIO and the international union UNI, Union Network International. The UNI contract is believed to be the second such worldwide agreement within the retail industry.

H&M, which has some 2,500 staff in 65 stores and two distribution centres in the US, has been accused of treating its US workers unfairly and of being hostile towards union representation.

The agreement between H&M and UNI is based on H&M's corporate policy which supports OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. These include the support and respect for fundamental human rights, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, as well as the ban on child labour, forced labour and all types of discrimination in all H&M's workplaces.

Rolf Eriksen, CEO of H&M, says that the agreement with UNI is a new, important step in the ongoing effort to make H&M's fundamental principles well-known within as well as outside the company.

"H&M has always sought to maintain good relations with trade unions. For us, it goes without saying that each member of the staff has the right to belong to and participate actively in a trade union organisation," he said.

The agreement will be ratified by UNI and will then be formally signed by both parties in January 2004.