Just a month ahead of the launch of H&M’s latest high fashion collaboration with Paris-based design house Balmain, the Clean Clothes Campaign, an international labor rights group, has teamed up with the International Labor Rights Forum and other labor organizations to shed light on the Swedish fast fashion giant failure to deliver on promises to improve safety in its Bangladesh factories. You may recall that on the heels of the Rana Plaza building collapse, which occurred in 2013, killing more than 1,100 garment workers, H&M was one of more than 200 brands that signed an accord to improve safety conditions in factories in Bangladesh. However, much like H&M’s green-washing efforts, it seems the company’s signing of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety was more of a PR move that one than aimed at yielding significant positive results in a timely manner.
H&M, like many other fast fashion brands, assured the public in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse that it would take the steps necessary to ensure the safety of the workers in Bangladesh, who manufacture a large percentage of its garments, but has not done so in a sufficient manner, report an array of labor organizations. According the Clean Clothes Campaign’s recent study, entitled “Evaluation of H&M Compliance with Safety Action Plans for Strategic Suppliers in Bangladesh,” H&M is hardly living up to its promises. Moreover, “As the Accord’s data shows, H&M has failed to ensure that even its most valued suppliers make their factories safe and yet H&M continues to do business with all of these suppliers.” As such, in addition to failing to meet the deadlines established by the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety’s independent inspectors, H&M has failed to stop doing business with factories that failed to meet new safety standards, as required by the Accord. Note: the Accord’s company signatories - like H&M - are responsible for ensuring that their factories meet the established deadlines.
To give you some specific figures: 53 percent of H&M's preferred suppliers were behind schedule when it came to most safety renovations. Of H&M’s 32 "Gold" and "Platinum" factories – the ones that produce the vast majority of H&M's clothes that come from Bangladesh – none were completely up-to-date on renovations, according to the report. Over half were at least six months behind, according to the report. Nearly 61 percent of them had fire-rated doors and staircase enclosures that were yet to be installed. Of the latter point, the Clean Clothes Campaign notes: “Any factory where a lack of stairwell enclosure and fire doors has been identified, but where these hazards remain uncorrected, is effectively a death trap.”
According to the Clean Clothes Campaign’s report, H&M is not only not honoring its requirements but is effectively lying to the public about it: “Given this reality, it is surprising and disturbing that H&M has suggested in its own public reports that safety renovations at its factories in Bangladesh have been completed and that the company has not disclosed any of the delays documented by the Accord.” As for the extensive delays in H&M supplier factories, H&M issued a statement saying that internal reviews found "good progress" and that delays with fire doors and sprinklers were caused by "import delays since none of these products are available in Bangladesh."
An array of labor organizations have subsequently spoken out about H&M's "excuses," accusing the company of “obfuscating and issuing misleading statements rather than properly addressing the reasons why safety improvement deadlines have been missed at its supplier factories in line with the requirements of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The group also claims it is unacceptable for a $20 billion corporation to blame delays on problems with the delivery of safety equipment.”
In short, not much has changed, and this is a significant problem, as the U.S. continues to import nearly $5 billion dollars a year in clothing from Bangladesh, making it the country’s third-largest supplier—following China and Vietnam. Regardless of whether the Balmain x H&M garments and accessories are made in Bangladesh, we implore you to take the aforementioned facts into consideration if you plan to shop the collection. We certainly will NOT be shopping.