Three years after signing Bangladesh Accord, H&M factories still not safe

As H&M shareholders prepare to meet in Sweden tomorrow, the Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network, and Worker Rights Consortium have released a report showing that the majority of H&M’s Bangladeshi supplier factories are still not safe. Three years after H&M became the first signatory to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, almost all of its factories remain behind schedule in carrying out the mandated renovations, with 70% of its strategic suppliers still lacking such a vital, life-saving feature as adequate fire exits. On the day of H&M’s Annual General Meeting, activists around the world will make their concerns known at their local H&M store.

The Accord’s four NGO witness signatories have reviewed H&M's strategic suppliers in Bangladesh, after two earlier reports in September 2015 and January 2016. Although some progress is visible, the slow pace is concerning. The new analysis shows that all factories that in January 2016 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. More troubling, however, is that 69% of these factories have not completed the installation of all fire-rated doors required for a safe exit for all workers in the factory. This percentage is actually higher than in January (when it was 55%) as most factories have in the meantime passed the extended deadlines they had been granted and others were found, upon inspection, to not have properly completed the required fire door installation. Besides the 32 previously checked factories, information has become available for 22 additional strategic suppliers. These additional factories performed comparably to the first 32 with regards to fire doors. Of all 54 checked factories, 70% still lack adequate fire doors. The newly checked factories performed worse on the removal of sliding doors, collapsible gates, and lockable doors.

Three years after the signing of the Accord, 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.

H&M has responded to our campaign with a new level of transparency. The company published a series of charts in which it reported on its level of compliance with repairs and renovations required under the Accord. According to H&M's own update, which covers all 255 of its suppliers in Bangladesh, all collapsible gates and sliding doors are removed, but 61% of the factories have not yet completed the required fire door renovations. In contrast, in previous communication H&M stated that “fire exits are one of the most fundamental requirements for a supplier in order to be allowed to produce for H&M.”[1]

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.

Although some progress is visible, much more needs to be done. CCC, ILRF and United Students Against Sweatshops therefore are mobilizing supporters to demonstrate in front of H&M stores on or around May 3rd, the day that H&M will hold its AGM in Sweden. Over 25 demonstrations are planned in cities around the world. Demonstrators will call on H&M to speed up repairs in Bangladesh to make factories safe. They will also inform customers leaving H&M stores about the difficulties workers who sew for H&M might face leaving their factories in case of a fire. 

These repairs are of vital importance. In February 2016 a huge fire broke out at H&M supplier Matrix Sweaters, and deadly casualties were only prevented because workers had not yet arrived for their first shift. Before there is a next fire, it is imperative that H&M put an end to the safety delays. As the largest buyer of clothing made in Bangladesh, and the first company to sign the Accord, other companies look to H&M to set the standard in compliance. While the delays continue, we ask H&M to provide a realistic timeline for the completion of the renovations as well as to disclose what sort of financing it has provided to factories to enable timely repairs.

[1] “H&M comments on the report on the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety,” October 6, 2015,