H&M is being urged to speed up the remediation work it is carrying out at its Bangladesh supplier factories

H&M is being urged to speed up the remediation work it is carrying out at its Bangladesh supplier factories

Labour rights groups are once again calling on Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) to quicken the pace on Bangladesh supplier factory remediation work as the Swedish fashion retailer prepares to hold its annual general meeting.

With H&M shareholders due to meet in Sweden today (3 May), the Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network, and Worker Rights Consortium have released a report claiming the majority of H&M's Bangladesh supplier factories are still not safe. Three years after becoming an Accord signatory, almost all of its factories remain behind schedule in carrying out mandated renovations they allege, with 70% still lacking adequate fire exits.

"There is no more excuse for such delays", said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign. "It is unacceptable that in the majority of H&M factories in Bangladesh workers still run the risk of being trapped in the building in case of a fire."

The NGOs say that H&M has responded to its campaign with increased transparency. However they say that while progress is visible, "the slow pace is concerning". 

The latest report suggests all those factories that in January still had lockable doors that might prevent workers from leaving the factory in an emergency have now removed those locks. Also, the percentage of sliding doors or collapsible gates still in place has decreased considerably. However, 69% of these factories have not completed the installation of all fire-rated doors – a higher percentage than the 55% recorded in January. Of all 54 checked factories, 70% still lack adequate fire doors, according to the report.

H&M has improved its transparency by publishing a series of charts in which it reported on its level of compliance with repairs and renovations required under the Accord. The fashion retailer, which covers all 255 of its suppliers in Bangladesh, says all collapsible gates and sliding doors have been removed. This, however, is at odds with the new report, which claims 61% have not yet completed the required fire door renovations.

"As a result of campaign pressure, H&M is showing new levels of transparency, which is laudable," said Liana Foxvog of the International Labor Rights Forum. "However, the numbers they are releasing now are not only considerably lower than the numbers we retrieved for its most trusted suppliers, they also make H&M's earlier reassuring communication look questionable. H&M also still fails to inform us on what the company itself is doing to speed up the renovations."

Around 30 demonstrations are expected to be held in front of H&M stores globally on or around 3 May, calling on H&M to speed up repairs in Bangladesh to make factories safe. 

A spokesperson for the retailer said it was of "outmost importance" that all factories producing for the group are safe, and that all of its suppliers must follow H&M's mandatory fire safety requirements, adding that it welcomes even stricter regulations.

"The new additional requirements from the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, transforming the entire Bangladeshi textile industry, are gradually implemented at more factories. For example, H&M's suppliers have now reported that all locking features as well as all collapsible, sliding or rolling shutter doors have been removed at all factories. Detailed information on progress can be found either on the Accord website or at the H&M website. The work is a complement to the mandatory H&M requirements such as having emergency exits, emergency lights, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, evacuation plans and regular evacuation drills."

In February, a fire broke out at H&M supplier Matrix Sweaters, injuring up to 15 people. The International Labor Rights Forum and United Students Against Sweatshops said the fact there weren't more injuries was "largely due to the fact that most workers had yet to arrive for their shift. The Accord's inspection report for the factory revealed that it had missed dozens of deadlines to eliminate fire hazards and make the structure safe. Had the fire broken out just an hour later, scores of workers may have been trapped inside."

Click here to view the full report. 

Bangladesh factory fire renews fears for worker safety