H&M announced Monday it has publicly committed to supporting the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which was initiated by IndustryALL Global Union and UNI Global Union in response to last month’s deadly building collapse that has claimed some 1100 lives.
Under the agreement, parties will be committed to the goal of a safe and sustainable Bangladeshi Ready Made Garment (RMG) industry that protects workers from fires, building collapses and other accidents that can be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures.
“Fire and building safety are extremely important issues for us and we put a lot of effort and resources within this area,” said Helena Helmersson, Head of Sustainability at H&M. “H&M has for many years taken the lead to improve and secure the safety of the workers in the garment industry. With this commitment we can now influence even more in this issue. We hope for a broad coalition of signatures in order for the agreement to work effectively on ground.”
The Accord is designed for a five-year period and is a step towards addressing improved fire and building safety in the RMG Industry. H&M claims that in order to make a sustainable impact, there needs to be a broad coalition of brands that align with the National Action Plan — which has been approved by government, industry associations and trade unions — to reach the wider industry of approximately 5,000 factories.
H&M says it plays an active role in improving fire safety in Bangladeshi garment factories, providing an education program to increase fire safety awareness amongst suppliers and their employees. The company also requires that all suppliers conduct factory electrical assessments and claims to have offered to share these costs. The company says it believe that this work will become an integrated part of the implementation program that follows the Accord.
“Our strong presence in Bangladesh gives us the opportunity to contribute to the improvement of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and contribute to the community’s development,” said Helmersson. “By being on site, putting demands on manufacturers and working for continuous improvements, we can slowly but surely contribute to lasting changes.”
Earlier this year, H&M for the first time made its supplier factory list public alongside its annual sustainability report, as part of an effort to build a more transparent, sustainable fashion industry.
On the heels of H&M's announcement, UK retailers Marks & Spencer, Primark and Tesco, Spanish clothing company Inditex — owner of the Zara brand — and Italian fashion brand Benetton have also signed onto the agreement, according to Brandchannel.
Krishan Hundal, Director of Sourcing at Marks & Spencer said: "We have a proven track record in Bangladesh — we believe our approach works and all our suppliers must adhere to our strict ethical standards as a condition of working with us. This includes regular fire, health and safety checks and we only source from single occupancy factories. But we also recognise the need for a safer garment industry in Bangladesh and have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety. We will play our role alongside the ILO, other clothing brands and NGOs in developing it into an effective programme to deliver a better working environment across all 5,000 garment factories in Bangladesh."
In addition to Plan A programmes such as Marks & Start Bangladesh (which places people with disabilities in supplier factories), M&S works with UNICEF in Bangladesh on a project providing support for children living in urban slums at each stage of their development, including education, sanitation and social protection services and facilities.
These European companies are joined by institutional investors and over a million consumers who have signed petitions urging U.S. retailers Gap and Walmart to also commit to the Accord, according to Businessweek.
Many of these brands have already made positive improvements in their supply chains following increased scrutiny on the fashion industry in recent months; Greenpeace's series of "Toxic Threads" reports detail the amount of hazardous chemicals used in the processing of many textiles and the effects they have on the water supply near factories in areas such as Indonesia.