Fashion retailer H&M has been criticised by labour rights groups for potentially endangering hundreds of workers at its supplier factories Bangladesh because they have fallen behind on fire and building safety repairs.

The claims come in a report published by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN), and Worker Rights Consortium (WRC).

The ‘Evaluation of H&M Compliance with Safety Action Plans for Strategic Suppliers in Bangladesh’ analyses publicly available information on the progress by H&M in addressing safety hazards in its supplier factories in Bangladesh.

It also looks at data derived from factory inspection reports and Corrective Action Plans (CAPs) publicly disclosed by the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

H&M was the first of more than 200 companies – including Carrefour, Inditex, Primark, C&A and Marks & Spencer – to sign the Accord, which was set up to make the Bangladesh ready-made garment industry safer in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed 1,138 workers. It is also the largest buyer of garments in Bangladesh.

But the labour rights group now say their analysis shows H&M has not honoured its commitments to ensure the safety of the workers in Bangladesh who sew its clothes.

Focusing on a sub-set of 32 of the 56 contract factories that H&M has deemed the best performers in its supply chain on labour and environmental issues, the report says all of these factories have failed to meet mandated timeframes for repairs and the majority of all renovations have still not been completed despite lapsed deadlines.

The outstanding renovations include the installation of fireproof doors, the removal of locking or sliding doors from fire exits, and the enclosure of stairwells – meaning that in many factories workers may be unable to safely exit a factory in an emergency.

In response, H&M says that while it is “convinced that the work being done within the Accord is making the industry safer,” it acknowledges there are “remaining challenges that we and the other collaborating participants within the Accord are dealing with.”

Of the estimated 5,000 ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh, 1,600 are being inspected by the Accord. Of these, less than 300 work with H&M, and “all meet the Accord requirements for operation,” the retailer says.

It adds: “Where H&M is lead-brand, almost 60% of the remediation work is completed and we see good progress.”

However, it admits “the Accord is experiencing some delays of the planned remediation process,” adding: “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.

“For example, some technical and structural challenges require more time and access to technology not available in Bangladesh. Delays are also due to heavy workload for the Accord inspection experts dealing with these complex issues.”

H&M says it has worked out solutions for all requests for financial support from its suppliers, and is “cooperating closely with them to remediate according to corrective and tailor-made action plans.”

And it adds: “We will continue our long-term investment [in Bangladesh] by fully supporting our 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.”