As a large global company, we have responsibilities for all of our 177,000 employees — but also for the 1.6 million textile workers employed by our suppliers. We want everyone to be treated with respect and work in a safe and healthy environment.
H&M Group has been managing these issues for more than 20 years, constantly moving closer to our ambition to become a Fair and Equal company. As with many other brands, we don’t own the factories — instead, we collaborate with around 1,300 suppliers, representing 2,400 factories that also produce for other brands.
Securing good working conditions
We are careful when entering new partnerships and committed to choosing partners who share our respect for people and the environment, and who are willing to work with us to improve their practices. Our employees in our production offices work directly with our business partners to form good relations, assess their performance against our Sustainability Commitment (see below), and support them in making improvements through various programmes and activities. Not only do they have close relationships with our business partners, but also with non-governmental organisations, experts, stakeholders and local governments. This gives them insight into the challenges involved and an understanding of how to drive improvements locally. Once we form a partnership, we work together with the supplier to improve their sustainability performance through training and capacity building. Sustainability performance is an important factor when deciding which suppliers to do business with.
The Sustainability Commitment
What started as the Code of Conduct in 1997, has become part of a larger initiative: The Sustainability Commitment, finalised in 2016. The Commitment outlines our requirements when it comes to Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Ecosystems and Animal Welfare, but also how we can work together to improve sustainability in our value chain. Before engaging with a business partner, we conduct assessments that all partners must pass in order to work with us. But there’s also an aspirational level of performance added to the commitment to encourage our partners to strive for ambitious results that exceed our fundamental requirements. All our business partners, in every part of our value chain, must follow this commitment, so that we have a shared vision for sustainability.
Good relations are great for business, but we don’t assess our business partners just because we want to keep an eye on them — it’s also a great (and successful!) way to constantly improve, collaborate and push ourselves to become a better company. We see that when these requirements are fulfilled, both fundamental and aspirational, it’s also beneficial for the suppliers since the workers become more engaged in their work and tend to stay with the company for longer.
Our Sustainability Commitment is used by all brands within the H&M Group.
Fire and building safety – the Bangladesh Accord
The Bangladesh Accord is an agreement between brands and trade unions established in May 2013 to help improve fire and building safety in the Bangladesh textile industry. The Accord is now monitoring over 1,600 factories and H&M Group was one of the first companies to sign it. In 2017, the national government of Bangladesh extended the Accord’s permission to operate beyond May 2018.
On 19 May 2019, the Accord issued a statement announcing the resolution reached by the Accord and the BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association), which was endorsed by the Government of Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Supreme Court Appellate Division has accepted the memorandum of understanding (MoU) and as a result the Accord has received permission to operate until May 2020. After that the Accord’s Bangladesh office operations, infrastructure, and staff will be taken over by a to-be-established organisation called the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC).
On 14 January 2020, representatives of the BGMEA and the Steering Committee of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Accord), met in Dhaka to finalize the establishment of the “RMG Sustainability Council (RSC)” by signing a Transition Agreement and agreeing Articles of Association for the RSC.
Our signing of the Accord was a complement to the work we started several years ago, and a great way forward as we want to involve a wide range of actors pushing for change in the entire textile industry in Bangladesh, not only the factories producing for H&M Group. With this commitment, we are able — together with other companies, global trade unions, employers’ organisations and the Bangladeshi government — to actively influence and contribute to improved workplace safety in the textile industry. Together we are working to improve the situation of around 1,647 factories in Bangladesh, of which around 232 produce for H&M Group. We have almost 650 staff in Bangladesh who work to support suppliers and production facilities to reach higher international health and safety standards. All factories we work with are approved for operation by the Accord.
To further speed up the remediation we are working closely with the global trades union, IndustriALL, to use our combined leverage where needed. We are also in close contact with the suppliers to support them and follow up on the work that remains to be done.
Mandatory H&M Group requirements at all factories producing for H&M Group
- Two emergency exits on each floor.
- Fire alarm installed on a separate power line, connected to its own generator.
- Emergency light connected to a battery in case of power failure.
- Fire extinguishers clearly marked and tested.
- Easy to understand evacuation plans posted on the walls.
- Regular fire evacuation drills for all employees and shifts, with minutes documented for each drill.
Production is not allowed in buildings shared by other companies or businesses. This requirement was introduced in 2009 and suppliers in shared buildings were gradually phased out.
Additional Accord requirements
- Fire door: New upgraded fire doors are installed at every factory exit to enabling safe evacuation. They are self-closing and have a fire-resistant function to prevent the fire or smoke from spreading through the building. The doors are certified according to international standards and must be installed by a certified engineer. Stairwells connected to a fire door must be a sealed compartment so that no smoke or fire can spread.
- Fire Alarm System: All garment factories require an automatic fire alarm system that activates the alarm in the event of fire.
- Standpipe System: A standpipe consists of rigid water piping which is built into buildings in a vertical position to which fire hoses can be connected, allowing manual application of water to the fire. Within the context of a building, a standpipe serves the same purpose as a fire hydrant.
- Sprinkler system: All high-rise buildings must be provided with automatic fire sprinkler systems throughout the building in case of a fire.
- Removal of sliding, collapsible and rolling shutter doors: These doors open either by sliding, folding back or rolling upwards and downward. They are now removed and will be verified by the Accord. Where required, they are replaced by new, outward opening doors equipped with a push-bar technique. This will enable a faster and safer evacuation in case of an emergency.
- Removal of locking feature: All factories producing for the H&M Group must have clear evacuation routes. All locks at factory entrances must be easily opened from the inside with one manual motion, for example a push bar complying with international standards.