Real Change or Empty Antics? H&M Commits to Fire and Building Safety Agreement

rana plaza collapse bangladesh

On May 13th, 2013 H&M signed the Accord of Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

Nearly three weeks after the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed and killed more than 1,120 people and injured many more, H&M signed an agreement with the mission to prevent similar disasters.

The Accord of Fire and Building Safety was drawn up by a labor coalition including IndustriALL Global Union, Clean Clothes Campaign and Workers’ Rights Consortium, and was published over a year ago. The Accord calls for a safe and sustainable Bangladeshi Ready Made Garment (RMG) industry where workers do not have to fear fires, building collapses or any other accidents that could be prevented with sensible health and safety measures.

Basically, the agreement requires companies to provide suppliers with more financial support in order to make the necessary factory safety upgrades. The plan established in the agreement is for a five-year period, during which the signees would actively take part in reviewing, implementing and enforcing factory safety regulations. Working together to develop a worker complaint process and a method for employees to report risks are also part of the agreement, which will be overseen by the International Labor Organization.

The aim of the agreement is to develop a nationwide factory safety initiative, which would require collaboration between a broad coalition of brands, the Bangladeshi government, industry associations and trade unions. There are more than 5,000 garment factories in Bangladesh where workers often make no more than $40 a month.

“Fire and building safety are extremely important issues for us and we put a lot of effort and resources within this area. H&M has for many years taken the lead to improve and secure the safety of the workers in the garment industry,” says Helena Helmersson, Head of Sustainability at H&M.

This Accord was drawn up and published on May 13, 2012 and activists have been pushing companies to sign it ever since. Why has it taken such a horrible event to spur agreement? Although H&M has implemented some factory assessment measures in the last few years, they obviously were not effective or worthy of a leadership title in garment worker safety.

The Accord was signed last year by PVH (Tommy Hilfiger  and Calvin Klein) and German retailer Tchibo, all of which have just been joined by several European companies including Inditex (Zara), H&M, British retailers Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Primark, and Benetton. Today is the final date for companies manufacturing in Bangladesh to sign the agreement, the measures of which need to be implemented within 45 days of signing. Wal-Mart, the second largest retailer to outsource garment manufacturing to Bangladesh, refuses to sign the agreement. Target, JC Penney, Sears, The Children’s Place and The Gap have yet to sign. If the carnage of the Rana Plaza collapse wasn’t a wake up call, what will be?

Image: rijans